But all Saki wants is to be in Tokyo with her friends, instead of no where with no cell service to keep in touch with them. On her first evening, Saki, her parents, brother and grandmother head into the town to watch fireworks. When Saki manages to sneak away, and head to the only convenience store, she meets four locals who tell her to take them to the graveyard, and then dare her to ring the sacred bell.
What Saki doesn't know is that ring the sacred bell invoked a death curse. Later that night, Saki is awakened by a spirit fox with four tails, who tells her he is there to help her on her quest and that she must now join the Night Parade, for which they are already late. The Night Parade is the biggest celebration in the spirit world, a time when they pare homage at the shrine on the mountaintop and lasting three nights. Now, Saki must visit the shrine in order to break the curse.
But things don't go well for Saki the first night of the Night Parade with the fox, who turns out to be quite a trickster, yet in the morning, she finds herself somehow returned to her bed in her grandmother's house. There are two more nights left of the Night Parade, and each night Saki finds herself with a different spirit guide (besides the fox, there is a tanuki and a tengu). But the closer she gets to the shrink on the mountain, the more difficult things become, and Saki is running out of time. Will she actually manage to get the death curse lifted before it is time to go back to Tokyo?
No one was more surprised than I was about this book. I really didn't like it at first, thinking I've read so many characters like Saki lately, and as well as her cliché video-playing obsessed brother, the bullies, and the busy almost neglectful parents. Only the grandmother and another girl Saki's age Maeda stood out (and I kept wondering if the grandmother knows something about the Night Parade). But it didn't take long to see that this was not going in the usual direction.
Tanquary, who lives in Japan and teaches English there (a kindred soul to my own Kiddo who taught English in China), has cleverly taken Japanese tradition, culture and folklore, mixed it into the life of a contemporary girl and produced a wonderful work of speculative fiction. I had fun reading The Night Parade and only wished for another night or two.
The good part is that you don't need to know anything about Japanese ctradition, ulture or folklore to appreciate this novel. What you need to know is there, and while there is a night parade in Japanese folklore, the Hyakki Yagyō (night parade of 100 demons), the one in this novel is only loosely based on it.
One of the things I always look for in a middle grade novel is whether the main character grows, and over the course of The Night Parade, I saw Saki go from a shallow, self-centered, follower just wanting people to see her as "cool" to a caring, thoughtful girl who no longer cares what people think of her because of her adventures in the spirit world. While Saki might be in a spirit world, there is no magic, and she must meet the challenges presented to her despite the tricksters and other obstacles using her intelligence and reasoning power. I always like to see that in a character.
The Night Parade is a fun, imaginative novel, not for everyone, but if you like your speculative fiction a little different than the usual, this is for you.
The publisher, Sourcebooks has provided a very useful Educator's Guide to download.
And they have also provided fun Activity Kit for your own Night Parade event.
This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley