Review of The Blossom and the Firefly

The Blossom and the Firefly
by Sherri L. Smith
Middle School, High School    Putnam    311 pp.    g
2/20    978-1-5247-3790-0    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5247-3791-7    $10.99

Almost buried alive in a bombing by Allied forces in 1945 Chiran, Japan, fifteen-year-old Hana feels as though she is already dead, just going through the motions. Since the bombing, girls her age have been assigned to the Nadeshiko unit; their job is to care for and send the tokkō (special attack pilots, or kamikaze) off to their deaths. In an alternating narrative, seventeen-year-old Taro is prepared to die for Japan, his death bringing more honor and glory for his family than his skill in playing the violin, or his life, ever could. When their paths cross, Taro’s violin-playing revives Hana’s appreciation for life as well as joyful memories, especially of her koto-playing father, now fighting in the war. When their connection deepens into love, Taro wonders if his feelings will jeopardize his resolve in completing his mission, while Hana’s heart breaks knowing Taro’s seemingly inevitable fate. Through meticulous research, Smith immerses her readers in a war narrative not often told to American readers, as well as a tension-filled love story. Smith does not shy away from the horrific consequences of war and its victims; the novel encompasses comfort women; Asian countries affected by Japanese imperialism; and ritual suicide. The imagery of the title evokes the Japanese code of bushido and the fleeting beauty of existence. A map, glossary, author’s note, and bibliography of both Japanese history in World War II and contemporary Japanese culture are appended.

From the March/April 2020 Horn Book Magazine.

Ariana Hussain

Ariana Hussain is a teacher librarian at the Blake School in the Minneapolis metropolitan area. She writes for Kirkus and School Library Journal and is a founding member and blogger for Hijabi Librarians ( She is a lifetime member of APALA.

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