A Moment in the Sun by Tory Gates

four stars

momentIn the corners of Japan, there are people afraid to live their lives and instead choose to remain stagnant. A Moment in the Sun by Tory Gates spins a unique story about the different types of love and human connections that condemn or save us. On the surface, Rei is a model high schooler – artistic, hardworking, and well-liked. Yet the past she believes she got over, the brokenness she ran away when she lost her family brings out insecurities she can’t seem to shake. Only when she is asked to help rehabilitate others like her does she begin to process the dark place she escaped from. For years Rei existed in isolation, never making contact with the outside world in a desire to disappear. Hidden from society, these hikkikomori or “Dwellers” as Gates puts it, are effectively silenced by their own distress. Though Rei is now supported by her lover Yui and her classmates, she realizes that without public awareness, the Dwellers will never receive the help they need. Even so, it will take all the empathy Rei and the members of her Book Club have to offer and then some. To understand their former member Sho’s similar withdrawal, each member must step out of their bubble and touch a darkness that exists outside of their understanding.

Hikkimoris are a phenomenon unexplored outside of Japan, yet affects as many as a million citizens. In choosing to bring this to a Western audience, Gates parallels the attempt Rei makes to shine a light on the voiceless. Never heavy-handed, the writing both leaves out judgment for each individual’s history, yet points out the excuses beyond shame that trap them. Alongside sensitive souls like Sho and traumatized ones like Rei stand a spectrum of fleshed out characters. Yui’s unconditional love, Rika’s willingness to share her happiness, and ultimately even the privileged Tamiko’s shock into change carries its own weight. Through a mixture of flashbacks interwoven through the slow-paced narrative, the novel is delicate in its handling. As a whole, the reading experience lapses into a midpoint between Western and Eastern cultures that might end up alienating both sides at times. While imperfect, the moment in the sun that Gates paints demonstrates how powerful an open-minded love can be in the face of tragedy and survival.

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