WOW. Have you ever read a book that you couldn’t stop thinking about for weeks after you put it down? Soul Lanterns was like that for me. This book both disturbed me and touched my soul, and while I do think it might be a bit too traumatic for the intended age group, it is one that really stuck with me and I highly recommend for young adult and adult readers.

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The summary, from Amazon:

The haunting and poignant story of a how a young Japanese girl’s understanding of the historic and tragic bombing of Hiroshima is transformed by a memorial lantern-floating ceremony.

Twelve-year-old Nozomi lives in the Japanese city of Hiroshima. She wasn’t even born when the bombing of Hiroshima took place. Every year Nozomi joins her family at the lantern-floating ceremony to honor those lost in the bombing. People write the names of their deceased loved ones along with messages of peace, on paper lanterns and set them afloat on the river. This year Nozomi realizes that her mother always releases one lantern with no name. She begins to ask questions, and when complicated stories of loss and loneliness unfold, Nozomi and her friends come up with a creative way to share their loved ones’ experiences. By opening people’s eyes to the struggles they all keep hidden, the project teaches the entire community new ways to show compassion.

Soul Lanterns is an honest exploration of what happened on August 6, 1945, and offers readers a glimpse not only into the rich cultural history of Japan but also into the intimate lives of those who recognize–better than most–the urgent need for peace.

Buy Soul Lanterns here.

Soul Lanterns tells the story of middle schooler Nozomi and her friends as they uncover the stories of the Hiroshima survivors in their lives. These second generation survivors have chosen to focus their yearly art feature on Hiroshima, then and now. While preparing their art projects, they learn the stories of the people in their lives who lost loved ones and were affected that day, from relatives to neighbors to their art teacher and Nozomi’s mother, who releases a lantern with no name on it every year.

This was such a moving book and also a very disturbing one. I could not stop thinking about it for the longest time, and the images it put in my head kept me up at night. I have been appalled by the dropping of an atomic bomb on Hiroshima by the United States during WWII since I first learned about it, but this was the first time I ever read an account, though fictionalized, written by a second generation survivor. I never put much thought into what the survivors had to deal with, and what the effects might have been for those who did not immediately perish that day.

This book shook me to my core. The powerful anti-war sentiments will stick with children, though I do worry some of the scenes described might be too disturbing for younger readers. I am not sure if I was so disturbed because I am an adult with more context and knowledge of war crimes my country has committed and continues to commit, but I was nauseated for days after putting this one down. I don’t know that a child could handle having the same reaction, though I question that they would at all.

This is a powerful read that I highly recommend for teens and adults in my life, and perhaps mature middle grade readers. I enjoyed the translation and rate it 5 stars.

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Soul LanternsSoul Lanterns by Shaw Kuzki
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

WOW, what a powerful book with strong anti-war sentiments. Though this is middle grade, some of the scenes are very graphic and traumatic and I would not recommend for everyone. Nonetheless, this is a very important, emotionally impactful book by a second-generation atomic-bomb survivor.

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Book Club Questions

  1. What did you know about Hiroshima and/or the atomic bomb that was dropped there before reading this book? What did you learn?
  2. Whose story touched you the most? Whose art project?

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