Review: The Night Parade by Kathryn Tanquary

The-Night-Parade-Kathryn-Tanquary

Hardcover, 320 pages
Published January 5th 2016 by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Source: ARC from Raincoast Books

(The cover art is by Alexander Jansson.)

I’m going to be very truthful here and say that the first point of appeal for me where this novel is concerned was the cover. And the second was the back copy. I would have read this regardless of the cover but it would have taken me a longer while to find it. Look at the colours and the atmosphere of the cover. Go on, look. I’ll give you a moment.

…..

Okay. So The Night Pride is about Saki Yamamoto who is the brattiest brat I have had the misfortune to meet in the longest while. She is one of those modern kids who callously trivializes tradition and culture for the sake of remaining hip and popular; she’s someone who scorns overtures of friendship and tries to ingratiate herself with the in-crowd. When Saki’s parents take their entire family to her paternal grandparents’ house for the Obon festival (Obon  or just Bon is a Japanese Buddhist custom to honor the spirits of one’s ancestors. Wiki), she whines. A lot. Especially because she will no longer be able to text and keep track of what is happening but also because she doesn’t want to end up on the bad side of the mean girl, Hana. I understand her anxiety, I do. I have heard and read accounts of the bullying that takes place in Japanese schools and wouldn’t wish that fate upon my worst enemy.

But goodness, Saki is not a difficult person to root for in the beginning. Her brother isn’t much better but he isn’t the protagonist so I don’t care about him that much. When Saki accidentally summons three spirits and rings a bell in the shrine her grandfather used to be a priest of, things get bad. Death curse bad. And don’t ask me how you accidentally summon spirits. These kinds of things happen in fiction.

The Obon festival generally lasts three days (according to the book) and each night a guardian spirit shows up in order to escort Saki through the night parade and into the inner palace where she will be able to meet the Midlight Prince who will help her revoke the death curse. The shrine is the same one that exists in the human world but in the spirit world it gains and becomes something more. The guardian spirits are very interesting characters: one is a wily fox spirit, the other is a tengu and the last one is a tanuki. I loved the juxtaposition of the modern and the traditional. Saki’s ennui and disinterest in her culture and tradition are not by any means exclusive to her but is characteristic of her generation. (I feel so old when I say this.) However, her growth as the narrative progresses is wonderful to witness. Anyway, even though the guardian spirits (some more than others) do their best, none of them are able to get Saki to the inner palace because of this evil new overlord that apparently has it in for Saki.

Tanquary’s research into Japanese culture and mythology is apparent in the worldbuilding and depiction of family dynamics. The ARC sorely lacks an author’s note and my internet ninja skills reveal that Tanquary is either still in Japan teaching or did spend a lot of time there teaching. Either ways, the research is seamlessly incorporated into the narrative. No info dumping clogs up the narrative and though there are many words and terms that the foreign reader will not be familiar with, the meaning of the unfamiliar words are present in context or explained.

I love how Saki’s preconceived notions about…well, everything…is broken down and she begins to seem less like a bot and more like a human being. I also really love this section in the novel that discusses how inanimate objects gain energy from the people who use/own these objects until they cohere a spirit that belongs to their own individual selves. I find that really beautiful and profound.

Saki learns that all actions have consequences and the repercussions of one of her thoughtless acts may be more dire than she ever imagined. (Yes, more than death curse bad.) Saki’s journey is a heroic journey but it is more an emotional journey than a physical one. Her grandfather passed away and the grief she feels at his death is hinted at in the novel and in her unwillingness to spend any more time than necessary in the house and village where he lived.

I enjoyed The Night Parade immensely. It had interesting characters, mythology I wasn’t too familiar with, and presented a slice of culture and people that I don’t often see in middlegrade books. It has a little bit of everything…plus that cover…sigh.