Review by Dallas2020 -- Uncle Yuta has an Adventure

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Review by Dallas2020 -- Uncle Yuta has an Adventure

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[Following is a volunteer review of "Uncle Yuta has an Adventure" by Claire Youmans.]
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2 out of 4 stars
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The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy - Book 4 - Uncle Yuta Has An Adventure
By Claire Youmans

Uncle Yuta Has An Adventure is set in 19th century Japan. The protagonists are an unusual family of shape-shifting people. Azuki is a teenage girl who can change into a toki (crested ibis, according to my research). Her younger brother Shota shape-shifts into a sparrow, and their friend Renko switches between human and dragon form. They live together with their uncle Yuta and the housekeeper, Hanako. Yuta is a former Buddhist monk who started a school and now dedicates himself to the education of the children in his care. He receives an invitation to a conference about education in Tokyo. With the help of the children and some other human and non-human friends, he prepares himself and travels to the capital. There, he learns how contact with Western culture is changing customs, government and education in Japan, meets a mysterious woman called Noriko and finds out how young women are being exploited in factories.

This book is the fourth in a series about the toki-girl and the sparrow-boy. A lot of what happened in the previous books is described and explained in this one. The author, Claire Youmans, has lived in Japan and is very interested in Japanese culture and history. This is evident in the book, as Japanese culture, language, clothing and food are described in extensive detail. These pages and pages of 'info-dump' are the main issue I have with the book. It wasn't unpleasant to read, but it is very information-heavy and there is very little action and dialogue. The only real action scene is at the very end of the book. The ending is very abrupt and raises the expectation of a fifth book.

Another thing I disliked about this book was the continuous switching between viewpoints. The story starts out mostly from Azuki's point of view, but it often switches to Shota, Renko and other, minor characters (like the badger who helped them on their trip to the palace). The dragon king and queen, Renko's sister, their friend Tsuruko and her husband Kojiro are all narrators, too. The last part of the story is mostly told from Yuta's point of view but switches to Noriko and other characters. This is very confusing and creates a detachment with the reader. I didn't identify with any of the characters.

I also thought the storyline wasn't very clear. It went into all sorts of detours which didn't lead anywhere, like the Dragon Queen's egg and the Yokai, Tsuruko and Kojiro's marriage problems and Azuki's difficulty keeping her weaving business afloat. I found myself often wondering what the book was actually about. Yuta's 'adventure' doesn't really happen until the last part of the book. The shape-shifting nature of the children was probably meaningful in the previous books, but in this one, it doesn't really serve any purpose. Pages and pages were spent concentrating on Yuta's clothing for his trip, describing the making of his Western suit and the clothes of everyone he meets. This really doesn't support the story at all and just makes it all more information-heavy and tedious.

Despite these negative points, I did find the book readable. The descriptions of Japanese culture and landscape are vivid and set a lovely scene. The author makes some interesting points, like the increasing Western influence in Japan and how it changes the culture and customs, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. Azuki suffers because the upcoming textile mills are taking her business away. The girls who work in the mills suffer from terrible work conditions. I liked the introduction of Noriko, who is a strong, intelligent woman with a secret of her own. The language is beautiful, precise and nearly faultless. There are very few typos and no grammar mistakes as far as I noticed. Uncle Yuta Has An Adventure is a slow, thoughtful book, rather like a Buddhist meditation. I would not recommend it for the intended audience, young adults, as I think they would prefer more action and less description. But I think people who are interested in culture and history could enjoy this book.

I give this book 2 out of 4 stars. I didn't feel connected to the characters and there were too many pages of non-essential information for me to really enjoy reading this book. But I believe that others might, especially if they have read the previous books.

Review by Dallas2020
March 24, 2020

Uncle Yuta has an Adventure
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