They were best friends, then pen pals — until one day, the letters stopped coming

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Almost 30 years after receiving the last letter from her pen-pal, Jessica Stuart returns to Japan to try and solve the mystery of her long-lost friend, Fukue.
It’s a mystery that spans decades, continents and cultures, and bridges one Toronto woman’s life with her childhood in Japan: what happened to Fukue? In 1988, Jessica Stuart was nine years old.
Her family embarked on a cultural odyssey that would greatly influence her life: the Stuarts dug up their middle-class roots in Vancouver’s Jewish community and replanted them in a rural Japanese town called Saku for a year.
It was during this absorbing year that Jessica met Fukue, a bright and bubbly girl with rosy red cheeks and an endless smile. Fukue and Jessica became like sisters, spending their days frolicking in the autumn leaves, dancing under snow-blanketed trees, watching hot air balloons illuminate the skyline in spring and sneaking through rice paddies in early summer.
Strangely, Fukue never invited Jessica to visit her family home. One day after school, Jessica insisted. Fukue reluctantly brought Jessica to her house; it was a derelict shack on the outskirts of town. Shocked and disturbed, Jessica started to make sense of the name-calling and bullying that Fukue suffered at school.
As the Stuarts’ year in Japan came to an end, Jessica and Fukue assured one another they would keep in touch. They became pen pals, writing letters back and forth for two years, until the letters from Fukue stopped — with no explanation. Now a musician in her 30s, Jessica has never forgotten Fukue.

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