Monday, July 26, 2010

Taroko Gorge by Jacob Ritari

A Japanese middle school has taken the entire class on a field trip to Taiwan as they graduate to high schools.  Since Japan's system for high schools is based on achievement tests, the students who have gone to school together for years will be separated in the future.  There are friendships and rivalries, but no one can really imagine how it will be when they don't see each other each day.  Their teacher, Mr. Tanaka, is the chaperone on this trip to Taiwan.

The children visit a famous temple, then break into groups to walk back to the park, which is built around the natural beauty of Taroko Gorge.  Everyone comes back except for three girls.  No one has seen them leave; but they have disappeared and can't be found anywhere.  What could have happened?  As time goes by, the police are called in.  An older detective and his young relative come.  He seems nonchalent about the disappearance, and says nothing can be done until morning when there is light.

There are other visitors to the park that day.  Peter Neils is a journalist who has roamed the world.  He tries to help with the search and to calm the children.  His cameraman, Josh Pickett, is a young man who can't seem to handle the pressure and becomes drunk and useless in the search.

The students quickly form alliances.  Although they have been good friends, it doesn't take long for accusations to be hurled and blame to be attached.  The event brings some students together while forcing others apart.  Regardless, this is an event that will shape the student's lives going forward.

Jacob Ritari uses his knowledge of Buddhism and Japan to set the book in a realistic setting.  Although he grew up in the United States, he studied Japanese language and literature at Japan's Sophia University.  This book is recommended for readers who are interested in how quickly a situation requires a moral choice, and how different individuals make that choice. 

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