With story elements and associations that have prompted its publisher to call it “a contemporary Anne of Green Gables,” this tale centers on Diana, eight years old at the outset and a lover of books who grows up dreaming of someday running her own bookstore.
Yukako Yajima was 16 and unwed when she gave birth to Diana, and she has raised the girl singlehandedly while supporting herself with nightclub work. The two kanji characters that combine to be pronounced “Diana” normally form a word that refers to winning big on a long shot at the track, and Yukako has explained that the girl’s father, a great fan of horse racing who removed himself from their lives shortly after Diana’s birth, chose the unusual foreign-sounding name in hopes that she might become the luckiest girl in the world. Yukako is also very fond of her own professional nightclub name, Tiara, and has taught Diana to call her by that name instead of calling her “Mother”; in other ways, too, she follows her own drummer and refuses to bow to convention?sometimes to Diana’s chagrin. Partly for her unusual name, partly for her dyed blond hair, and partly for her natural-born beauty, Diana has been a victim of derision and bullying by her classmates since she first entered school, and she has learned both to detest her name and to dread the first day of school each year when she must introduce herself to a new group of classmates. She has vowed that when she turns 15 she will change her name and set out to find her father.
On the first day of third grade, as classmates predictably begin making fun of her “weird” name and hair, she is rescued by a girl named Ayako Kanzaki, who cites Anne of Green Gables, one of Diana’s favorite books, in declaring Diana an enviable name. Ayako is the only child of parents who both work as editors for a major publishing house and has grown up with nothing but the best, so the two girls come from opposite ends of the economic spectrum, but their shared love of books makes them fast friends. In a narrative that alternates between their two viewpoints, the story traces the girls’ lives over the next 14 years, including a long period of separation before they are finally reunited.
Diana is very fond of a five-volume picture-book series called Diana’s Secret Forest, which she is surprised to discover was edited by Ayako’s father. The author is Keiichi Hattori, who received accolades for the publication of this work at the age of 19 but never produced another title and has disappeared completely from the limelight. When Diana is 22, Hattori at long last comes out with his second publication, a volume of short stories, and one day a book signing is scheduled at the bookstore where she has worked since graduating from high school. The occasion also becomes a father-daughter reunion, for it turns out that the man who named the heroine of his work Diana is none other than the man who gave Diana her name. That same day, Diana is also reunited with Ayako, whom she has not seen since Ayako unilaterally declared their friendship over shortly before they went on to different middle schools ten years before, and the two grade-school friends reconcile.
Be it mother and daughter or best childhood friends, it is difficult for any two people to fully understand each other. Through the way Diana comes to better understand her mother’s life choices, as well as in how the two girls cultivate their friendship and then make their separate ways to adulthood, this story emerges as an empowering “fight song” for women determined to live life on their own terms.