This is the story of two little Japanese dolls. D’aww.
Nona Fells feels lost. For all of her life she has lived in India with her father, where she tended by her Ayah and soothed by the bright flowers, fruit, and sun. But here in England, it is cold, cold, cold. Her cousins laugh at her clothes and her accent, but how can she be expected to act English, when all of her life has been Indian?
Slowly, Nona begins to settle into her new English life. But she is not cheerful. How can she be? She feels all alone. And then, one day, a package arrives, addressed to the Misses Fell. In it are two little Japanese dolls – Miss Happiness and Miss Flower. Nona feels an instant connection with them; they too have traveled far to arrive in England, they too are lost in a strange, new culture. But perhaps there is a way that Nona can make them feel at home – if she builds them a genuine Japanese home, they will be happy!
But where will she get the materials? What does a Japanese house even look like? And will Nona become friends with her cousins, Anna, Tom, and Belinda?
There were two big problems in this story. The first was Belinda’s behavior, the second was the fact that the dolls were given the ability to think and speak to each other.
Belinda’s behavior. Absolutely atrocious. She is an untrained, unpleasant girl who takes delight in being rude and hurtful. She calls people stupid with regularity – including her elders – and she has an horrid, uncontrollable temper. Accustomed to being both the baby of the family and the center of attention, her jealousy is aroused by the attention that is given to Nona, even though they offer to include her in the project. She kicks things, shouts, and sticks out her tongue at people.
Now, Belinda is portrayed as being a bad little girl. But the most her mother and father ever do is tell her how disappointed they are and send her to her room. They never once provide her with moral instruction as to why her actions are wrong, and they certainly never spank her. In the end, it is her conscience alone that convicts her, and suddenly Belinda is very sorry for her selfishness. Then she is nothing but pleasantness for the rest of the book and everyone tells her how proud they are of her. I was glad she repented, but I felt that she repented more because she could not stand being disliked by everyone in the house than because she was sorry for her sins.
Miss Happiness and Miss Flower, although dolls, experience emotions – hope, love, fear, kindness, etc. They speak to one another and are extremely intelligent; they know all of the customs of the Japanese and understand people when they speak. As a plot device, this didn’t bother me too much, but it has implications. Also, the dolls believe that if they wish for something – anything – hard enough, they can make it happen. And it works. They wish for all sorts of things, and always the person they wish it from will feel a sudden inclination to do exactly as the doll wished!
Towards the beginning of the book, Nona and the two dolls celebrate the ‘Star Festival’.
“A Star Festival?”
“Yes,” said Nona. They were all looking at her and she blushed and stammered, though she remembered more clearly now. “S-something to do with the stars, t-two stars,” she said. “I think they are the spirits of two people who loved each other long, long ago, a thousand years ago, and were separated. Now they are up in two stars each side of the M-milky Way, and one night each year they can cross and meet.”
“Across the Milky Way?” said Anne. “How pretty.”
“Yes,” said Nona again, and now her eyes shone so that she, too, looked almost pretty. “And on earth that night children – grown-up people as well, but mostly children – write wishes on pieces of coloured paper and tie them outside on the bamboos, all over Japan,” she said, her eyes shining. [pgs. 12-13]
After her family goes to be, she writes her wishes and hangs them outside.
In an attempt to manipulate a boy into performing a certain task, a man declares that he thinks the boy is unable to perform the task. It works – the boy scowls and sets off to “show him”. In the end, the task is accomplished and everyone is happy, but I still think that this is the wrong way to motivate a child.
The Fells celebrate Easter with Easter eggs and bunnies.
‘Darn’ is used three times.
Conclusion. Mixed review. Miss Happiness and Miss Flower taught a great deal about Japanese customs and living. The style of the story was sweet. But its sweetness was mingled with problems. Your call!
Review © 2013 Laura Verret