“Book Review: The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy, Book 4: Uncle Yuta Has an Adventure”
Reviewed by Joe Walters
An immersive, enjoyable experience of Japanese culture
The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow Boy is a historical fantasy series set in the Meiji era of Japan (1868-1912). Uncle Yuta Has an Adventure is the fourth book in the series, but thanks to author Claire Youmans’ informative and detailed style, it proves to be a great place to start reading.
In “a world that incorporates both the real and Japan’s colorful adventurous folklore,” Uncle Yuta Has an Adventure thrives with strong characters and their quest to stay productive and unseen in their mysterious, mystical lives.
Uncle Yuta is an even-tempered and kind monk. He watches after his niece (Azuki) and nephew (Shota) after their parents have died. However, Azuki and Shota are no ordinary children. Yuta is completely human, but he must adapt to the children’s dual natures: Azuki can shapeshift into a Toki (or Japanese crested Ibis), and Shota can shapeshift into a sparrow. While Yuta cares for these remarkable children, he also runs a private school in their rural village and spends plenty of time with a third dual-natured child, a European-looking girl who shapeshifts into a dragon: Renko.
In this book, things are changing in the capital. Westerners have entered the city and are calling for education and land reform, which could impact Yuta and the kids greatly. Even the city itself is changing form, as Western clothing is becoming nearly essential in order to get ahead. And on top of that, Azuki is losing her fabric-designing customers to industrial workers who are pushing out large quantities that she can’t keep up with. Yuta must enter the capital and make sure his family and school are taken care of, and in turn, come in direct contact with the changes of the city that, he learns, are making things much, much worse.
Author Claire Youmans does a wonderful job keeping the Western problem both intimate and global. Azuki is losing her business because of the industrial practices, and factory workers are being wildly mistreated in the process. As a reader, this conflict proved to be a heart-wrenching one, keeping me on my toes for how our magical heroes might fix their problem. Thanks to a cast of truly interesting and relatable characters (including a Dragon Queen with an irresponsible husband), this novel helps us relate to the issue and root for the change the world needs.
While I truly enjoyed the immersive experience in this novel, I also think it may have spent just a bit too much time on Western clothing and the actions that lead up to Uncle Yuta leaving for the capital. Considering the novel’s title, I felt a bit disappointed that it took such a long time to get to Yuta’s actual adventure, but in the end, this didn’t stop me from experiencing a truly satisfying feeling as I closed the final page.
I’d be happy to recommend Uncle Yuta Has an Adventure to Young Adult fantasy readers as well as adults with a love for Japanese folklore and culture. With plenty of intrigue to keep us afloat and with conflicts that tease a potentially even more explosive final two books, this book could be an excellent new read for you.
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