The spare, heartbreaking tale of four children struggling to make do after their mother abandons them in a Tokyo apartment.
Smuggled into a “No Children” flat and forbidden to go to school or even venture outdoors except to run quick errands, Akira, Kyoko, Shigeru and Yuki—12, 10, 8 and 4 respectively—live for their hard-partying mother’s increasingly rare appearances. By winter, she and the money she occasionally sends are gone completely, but the children, knowing that they would be split up if they asked openly for help, remain in hiding—even after Yuki, the youngest, takes a fatal fall and is quietly, sadly buried in a suitcase with chocolates and her favorite toy. Tanaka’s narrative is a novelization of a 2004 Japanese film inspired by true events; though the children’s situation would probably not have gone unremarked so long in this country, there is certainly a universal element in her observation that “[n]obody seemed to notice four kids living on their own right under their noses. It was as though the children were invisible.” Yuki’s death isn’t the only shocker here, but the author consistently describes disturbing incidents in oblique ways and, echoed in the film stills thinly scattered throughout, adopts a tone more poignant than outraged.
A tale without a tidy end, all the more tragic for being told in such a simple, low-key way. (Fiction. 11-14)