Nao Yasutani, a 16-year-old girl, gets to start Ruth Ozeki's book, A Tale for the Time Being by letting us know that we're reading her diary and that she's writing it from a French maid cafe in Tokyo's Akiba Electricity Town. Nao's quick-paced, upbeat writing gets an added edge when she tells us that she's going to, "Drop out. Time out. Exit my existence."
Nao considers herself a California girl, since she and her parents moved to Silicon Valley when she was three, but when she was fifteen her father lost his job there and they moved back to Japan and Nao's life in Japan now includes a deeply depressed and unemployed father, an overworked mother, a gang of classmates who bully Nao in violent and disgusting ways, and Jiko, Nao's Buddhist monk great-grandmother who lives in a stone temple at the top of a mountain but still manages to text with Nao.
Nao's first chapter hooked me on her story, but the second chapter switched voices to that of Ruth, a woman who finds Nao's diary inside a ziploc bag that washes up on a beach on the Pacific Coast of BC, and the story got bogged down in details about a husband, a cat, and life in a quaint island town, and this happened every other chapter until it became just too much trouble to get through a slow chapter so I could get back to Nao's story. I was going to give up on the book until I realized that I DIDN'T HAVE TO READ RUTH'S CHAPTERS (yes, you can practise anarchy when reading a book) and in this way I finished an excellent, modern-day, coming-of-age story.
A few days after I finished the book (or rather, half the book), I heard, in a CBC interview, Ozeki tell Shelagh Rogers that the first version of the book, which included only Nao's story, was ready to go to the publisher when the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan hit, at which point Ozeki felt she needed to make this a bigger story.