The Green Leaves and Sunshine House is a home for children without parents, whether due to abuse, divorce, death, or other unfortunate circumstances. Taisuke came to the facility three years ago after his parents were killed in a traffic accident. Life in the facility is communal, with the children divided into small groups. The story centers on Group 1, which includes Taisuke, now in the sixth grade; Jun’ya, also in the sixth grade, and his sister Mari, who is two years younger; Mihoko, a fifth-grade girl; and Saori, a senior in high school and the group leader. Taisuke was withdrawn and had a hard time fitting in when he first arrived, but he has since emerged from his shell to become good friends with his group mates?in large part thanks to the gentle and considerate Saori, whom he has come to regard as a kind of surrogate mother. Still, each member of the group continues to nurse solitary wounds from the past that cannot be healed merely by making new friends.
Saori has long dreamed of going on to college in Tokyo, and to that end has been diligent in her studies. But some relatives with a printing business in a regional city have been paying the hospital costs for her sickly younger brother, and when they ask her to come and help with the family business after high school, she is in no position to refuse: she must give up her dream. As she prepares to leave the children’s home, Taisuke and the others take the March 18 “sendoff” planned at the grade school for the graduating sixth-graders as an opportunity to hold their own sendoff for Saori. The town’s traditional Firefly Festival, in which hot-air lanterns are released into the air to carry wishes and prayers, has been in hiatus for a number of years, but they decide to revive it. On the night of the event, the five members of Group 1 watch from a hillside, each lost in his or her own thoughts, as lanterns rise from the schoolyard below.
But Taisuke is surprised to find out that Saori isn’t the only one who will be leaving the group. Having learned that his sister is being bullied by her classmates at school just like he is, Jun’ya has decided they will both transfer to a new school. With the mother who once abused her now remarried, Mihoko will go to live with her and her new husband. Taisuke is the only member of Group 1 who will remain. When he bemoans his lonely fate, Saori assures him, “I’m sure you’ll soon meet other people like us.” And she offers words of wisdom to the others as well. “If someone tries to bully you, then run away. If they make fun of you and laugh at you, go find other people who don’t do that. If you decide a relationship is simply not going to work, then even if the person is of your own blood, just walk away.”
In a powerful work that grapples head-on with such fundamental questions as what it means to be a family and what it means to be alone, author Ryō Asai stretches his wings beyond the YA category.