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Namako: Sea Cucumber
By Linda Watanabe McFerrin
Review by: Moira Richards


ISBN: 1566890756

Namako, a Sea Cucumber, is a strange marine creature that is named for a vegetable but which looks neither like a plant nor like an animal. Perhaps it is not surprising that Ellen, the narrator of this novel, is instantly drawn to and fascinated by the bottled specimen that she discovers in her school's science laboratory.

She is the oldest of four children and is at that age when one is no longer a girl, and not yet a woman. She is also the descendant of Japanese, British and Scottish grandparents and she has lived with her parents in Indonesia, North America and now Japan where she meets her strange Japanese grandmother whose language she cannot understand. Initially, Japan and her grandmother are strange and unattractive to the girl, but as the tale progresses, so she develops first an interest in Japanese legends, then a rapport with her grandmother and at last an understanding of Japanese spirituality.

The young Ellen narrates the story and through her we meet her parents and siblings, all drawn with the mixed love and annoyance that one feels towards the people with whom we live. Ellen takes the reader through the fun and the pains of new best friends, first love, and the strange behaviour of adults that she experiences in the few years of her new life in Japan. She can be slyly perceptive as kids often are just when parents believe them to be too young to notice 'grown-up' matters. She is also sometimes achingly naive about the motives of some of the adults whom she encounters.

As Ellen discovers her roots, so she finds herself on the threshold of adulthood, buoyed with a confidence born of the knowledge, as she says, that "I had found a place to come back to, and I knew, at last, the way that I must go to get there." As we watch, Ellen begins not only to learn about the complexities of life and growing up, but also to engage with her Japanese heritage.

Linda Watanabe McFerrin has created an enchanting young character whose observations and experiences engage the interest of young adult and more mature readers alike.

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