Head Over Heels For 'Boys Over Flowers' Japan has been devastated by an earthquake and a tsunami — but author Marie Mutsuki Mockett has faith in the resilience of the Japanese people. She recommends Yoko Kamio's manga series, Boys Over Flowers, about a young heroine, who embodies Japanese perseverance.


Head Over Heels For 'Boys Over Flowers'

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The news out of Japan has been at turns alarming, devastating, and in a few cases, hopeful. For author Marie Mutsuki Mockett, the stories of determination and resilience inspired her to revisit a favorite Japanese manga series that she loved in high school. It's called "Boys Over Flowers," and it's part of our series You Must Read This, in which authors talk about a book they love.

Ms. MARIE MUTSUKI MOCKETT (Author, "Picking Bones from Ash"): It's spring in Japan. News reports on the nuclear disaster are intertwined with progress reports on the wave of cherry blossoms sweeping across the nation. On a given weekend, you may see women and a few men carefully poring over the warming earth, foraging for fuki no to, coltsfoot; and my favorite, tsukushi, horsetail shoot.

Tsukushi also happens to be the name of my very favorite Japanese heroine. She's the main character of Yoko Kamio's wildly successful manga series, "Hana Yori Dango," which loosely translates to "Boys Over Flowers," a pun that refers to people's preference for sweets over flowers during cherry blossom viewing.

The story begins at Eitoku Academy, where the students have a novel approach to bullying.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Hana Yori Dango")

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (as Doumyoji) Hey, kid. What do you think you're doing?

Unidentified Man #2 (Actor): (as character) I'm sorry. I didn't mean to do it. I won't do it again, honest.

MOCKETT: Every few weeks, an unsuspecting student opens his locker, sees a flag hanging inside and hyperventilates. It's a signal that the student will now be subject to mandatory ostracism and torture, while the cliquey F4, scions of Japan's wealthiest families, will sit back and watch.

In the summer of 2007, I spent a great deal of time absorbing "Hana Yori Dango." Why? I, too, cowered from bullies and skipped lunch altogether to avoid having to figure out where to sit. I'm an adult now, but my adolescent me still cheers for Tsukushi because she takes on Doumyoji, the leader of the F4.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Hana Yori Dango")

Unidentified Woman (Actress): (as Tsukushi) You listen to me, Mr. Big Shot. For once in your life, you're going to pay attention and listen to what someone else have to say.

MOCKETT: Naturally, she gets a red flag. Incensed, she declares war on the group, later marching up to Doumyoji and kicking him in the face in the cafeteria. He topples over in full view of his minions and falls instantly in love. So begins a very complicated romance.

By the early '90s when the series came out, the bamboo shoot days of post-war Japan had ended. But money did not provide an answer to the existential questions of the Japanese youth. Nationwide bullying became so popular an incident as to become a regular feature on the nightly news.

In "Hana Yori Dango," Kamio was making a statement about the impact of wealth on the young, but in Tsukushi, she was also appealing directly to what she knew had made Japan so great: the ability to regenerate as wild weeds always do.

When facing challenges that might otherwise seem impossible to surmount, Tsukushi often reminds Doumyoji, herself and us that she is tough, wild weed. With this strength, Tsukushi takes on the bullies in her school and her own inner fears to emerge a picture of composed triumph.

SIEGEL: Marie Mutsuki Mockett is the author of the book "Picking Bones from Ash." If you want to discuss books with other NPR listeners, you can join the NPR Facebook community by searching for NPR books and clicking like.

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