Tim Wynne-Jones has written a powerful gripping Historical Fiction/ Magical Realism novel for teens. Seventeen-year-old Evan’s father has just died suddenly. He died the day after saying that his father, from whom he’s been estranged since he was a teen, was a murderer. Evan’s father Clifford E. Griffin III, left his Marine officer father to avoid fighting in Vietnam, but also because he was opposed to everything about his father. He and Evan have lived a conflict free life in their home at 123 Any Place. After his father’s death Evan becomes intrigued with a book that had been on the desk at which he found his father’s body. With the book was a letter from a man called Leonardo Kraft that seems to implicate Evan’s grandfather, Griff in the events written about. Though he has called his grandfather to ask for help, when Griff arrives a week early, Evan does not feel comfortable having him in the house.
Evan has been reading the book, a translation of a Japanese soldier’s diary. The diary was written by a WWII Japanese officer, Isamu Ōshiro on a deserted Pacific Island to his wife. In the diary he describes how he came to and survived alone on the deserted island he comes to call “Kokoro-jima,” the Heart-Shaped Island. He has come to call himself the Ōshiro calls himself the Emperor of Kokoro-jima. He also describes the mythological family ghosts and jinkininki, monsters who feed off the dead that also live on the island. One day the jinkininki lead Ōshiro to a downed U.S. cargo plane and in it the crew members are dead. Ōshiro realizes that the navigator has left the plane. On the beach Ōshiro sees another monster, Tengu, about to attack the American soldier, Derwood Kraft. They come to know one another and with little ability to communicate, become loyal friends and attempt to survive.
The tension is palpable as Evan reads the diary at night and hides the book from his grandfather during the day. Griff’s presence with his military bearing and manner toward Evan are terrifying. The two stories, Ōshiro’s and Evan’s account of losing his dad and being terrified in his own home, are woven seamlessly together.
Likewise, the narration by Todd Haberkorn is spot on. I found myself holding my breath when he spoke Griff’s voice.