“If you lose your way, just keep walking. Left or right: It doesn’t matter.” These words of wisdom guide Suzume Yosano, much like the unforgettable shooting star that appears to her as a child.
In Mika Yamamori’s first installment of Daytime Shooting Star, we meet 15-year-old Suzume, whose life is thrown into upheaval after her parents announce she is moving away from the tranquil countryside to live with her uncle in Tokyo. Despite her protests, they will not allow her to travel with them to Bangladesh, where her father has been relocated for his job. With a new city, new school, and new classmates, Suzume has much to learn. What follows is a roller coaster ride full of mean girls, love triangles, and memorable characters. Along the way, Suzume begins to learn a lot about herself, but with every answer seems to come another question. Her journey is just beginning, and readers should enjoy the ride.
Thematically, the book shines. New beginnings mean readers get to explore a new place and new people right alongside the main character. The sky and the stars serve as a trustworthy guide throughout; a constant in an otherwise changing world. Since spotting a shooting star when she was young, Suzume carries within her the need to find it again. Interestingly, the place where she discovers her new shooting star is not in the sky at all. Food also serves a thematic purpose. As an avid sushi lover, her food of choice serves as a bridge between country and city. In fact, it is the buffet of fresh fish and other delicious seafood that help Suzume begin to feel at home in her new city. Food also marks special occasions, connects characters, and gives us a taste of local cuisine. I also am sure it is no accident her uncle, Yukichi, owns a café, where he prepares food all day.
Another fun touch is the animal-inspired names. Each character’s name represents a different furry, for example Suzume means sparrow, and her nickname is Tweetie. I was able to draw many parallels between creature and character, suggesting this connection reveals elements of their true nature. Speaking of characters, it is the unique cast that prevents Daytime Shooting Star from becoming just another love-triangle romance. Right from the book’s start, we know Suzume is going to be a little weird (but awesome). In the first scene, we notice her absence from the classroom. It turns out she is on the roof, sky gazing and day dreaming. The author’s decision to isolate her from her classmates reflects Suzume’s individualism—this is a girl who definitely marches to the beat of her own drum.
Her way of making friends also is a bit off the beaten path. From playful blackmail (if there is such a thing) to beating up her frenemy, Suzume’s approach is as unconventional as her shaggy braids and disheveled clothing. Both of which are quite endearing, by the way, especially amidst the sleek and stylish city girls. In addition, Yamamori adds additional character depth by chronicling Suzume’s growth throughout. At one point, Suzume states, “The thing that is changing… is it my surroundings or myself?” Many readers will be able to relate to the struggles associated with change, whether it is physical, emotional, or both.
Completing the love triangle, are Suzume’s teacher, Mr. Shishio (“lion”), and her classmate, Mamura ( “horse”). Both love interests are interesting characters in their own right. Mr. Shishio is hot and cold, closed and open, funny and serious. It is impossible to guess what he is thinking, and his kindness makes him seem less like a creepy older guy (more about that later). On the other hand, Mamura is mysterious and downright rude at first. He inexplicably seems to burn up whenever Suzume touches him, and she has to fight him at every turn to become his friend. I look forward to learning more about him in future installments.
Complementing the intricate story line is the beautiful artwork. Complex and detailed, Yamamori excels at portraiture. Each character comes alive thanks to the carefully crafted lines and unique shading technique. Extreme close-ups add intimacy and emotion, whereas sweeping landscapes provide context. The landscapes are particularly effective in creating contrast between Suzume’s country life and her new city life. While in the country, the frames are filled with curving lines and soft shades depicting expansive fields, sky, and mountains. Switching to the city, the eye first notices the lack of space. The frames become crammed with tall skyscrapers and masses of people drawn with jagged lines and high-contrast shading. This effectively transports us from the idyllic to the urban.
Overall, I give this book a thumbs up. I find it beautiful yet heartbreaking how well Yamamori captures the brilliance of first love. It is intense, and it burns brightly, but it can fade just as quickly. Much like a shooting star. Both are not meant to last, but their impermanent nature makes them all the more poignant. And just like a shooting star, this book suggests that we all have people or things in our lives that are very rare and special, but equally unreachable.
If this sounds way too sad, don’t be too worried. Yamamori’s sense of humor keeps the book light-hearted enough to remain in the “guilty pleasure” category as opposed to the “highly depressing.” From humorous illustrations to entertaining “snippets” between chapters, readers should come away smiling, not crying. I enjoyed the extras in which the author directly addresses her readers. She shares the many trials and tribulations of writing the book as well as special shout-outs to fans and references to her previous series, Sugars. She also opens the floor to her assistants, allowing the “worker bees” to illustrate the chapter title pages. The result is a highly interactive, intimate read.
My one caveat would be Mr. Shishio. While he is likeable enough, and never oversteps the boundaries of a teacher-student relationship, the budding romance hinted at is troubling. The age difference is downright inappropriate—he is 24 and she is 15. There should not be any sort of attraction, especially on his side. Rightly so, there is a great deal of taboo with these types of relationships, and I am nervous to see just how far Yamamori will explore and push this boundary in volumes to come. I also am not a fan of his chain-smoking habit. The “school marm” in me worries about the message this sends to young adults, especially since Suzume seems to admire his lifestyle of “caffeine and cigarettes.”This book is appropriate for teen and adult readers.
Daytime Shooting Star Vol. 1
By Mika Yamamori
VIZ Media, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: Teen