Cristy Burne, illustrated by Siku,
Frances Lincoln, 2010.
Winner of the inaugural 2009 Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Award for a middle-grade reader by an unpublished author, Takeshita Demons will have readers on the edges of their seats. Twelve-year-old Miku Takeshita has recently moved to London with her parents and little brother, Kazu. Back in Japan, her grandmother had taught her about all the secrets of their old house, including Zashiko, the child-ghost who protected them from the other, less kindly disposed spirits and demons. Now that she is in England, she doesn’t think these spirits will be able to find them.
Things really start to go wrong for Miku when she arrives at school to find her class has a Japanese supply teacher, Mrs Okuda, who not only embarrasses Miku by speaking to her in Japanese and thus setting her apart from her English peers, but turns out to be uncannily effective in keeping the class in order. And then Miku notices the tiny red Japanese characters on her neck… Mrs Okuda is an evil nukekubi demon.
What follows is a breathless adventure. School is closed due to the unusually heavy snow that has begun to fall. Kazu disappears and Miku and her best friend Cait head back to the empty school in their quest to rescue him. There, they find themselves pitted against not only the nukekubi, with her flying head, but also a green snake-woman who claims to have been sent by Zashiko. It is a long night.
Cristy Burne has created a fast-paced story full of suspense that is further intensified by Miku's matter-of-fact narration. Cait’s incredulity at Miku’s initial explanations, and then her own involvement in subsequent events allow Western readers to be pulled into the Japanese spirit world that Miku so takes for granted. The subplot of Miku being a foreigner in her school, her longing for acceptance and the thoughtless but nevertheless cruel teasing she has to endure makes the story relevant to its audience. It is also satisfactory that all the adults who might otherwise have been of assistance (i.e. teachers and parents) are conveniently removed from the story’s sphere by the adverse weather conditions. All in all, Takeshita Demons is likely to become a hit and readers will be very glad that the ending leaves an opening for the possibility of a sequel. Let’s hope so.