Claire Takata’s father was always a bit of a mystery, but on the 10th anniversary of his death, she stumbles upon a cryptic letter he’d written to her now-stepfather, and Claire realizes just how little she knows about either man. A sleuth by nature, she gathers her brothers and her closest friends and begins to investigate. Claire quickly discovers that her father had been a member of a Japanese crime syndicate called the yakuza. Before she can learn more, her discovery sets off a chain of events that puts Claire and her family and friends in more danger than she’d ever imagined.
Valynne Maetani’s debut young adult novel (a New Visions Award winner and Junior Library Guild selection) is equal parts gripping mystery and engaging coming-of-age story. Claire’s confusing mix of grief and indignation at discovering her father’s secrets is powerful and relatable, and her colorful cast of friends offers both the unwavering support and the comic relief that the protagonist and readers desperately crave. (Not to mention, of course, the romantic tension that manages to be at once cringe-inducingly cheesy and heart-flutteringly adorable.)
Maetani does an admirable job weaving the mystery of Claire’s family history and creating realistic, escalating stakes that build the story from a Nancy Drew-level adventure into a climax that is pure thriller. The novel is compelling from the start, but for the last 150 pages or so, it’s impossible to put down.