This was a reread before I start Vol 4 because it's been so long in between volumes that I forgot what happened. >_>As a whole, the series shares a lot of similarities to Fruit Basket. A naive, innocent looking protagonist (Saku looks even younger than Tohru did.) with a cheerful, loving personality, who is supported by her two friends, one of whom is a protective ojousama. (But in Saku's case, the second friend is not a tomboy, but an actual boy.) Like Tohru, Saku lives with people who are not actually related to her. (Kaede, a stern and sarcastic, but ultimately loving twenty something.) And, as we find out in volume 3, like Tohru, Sakuya has a darker past, and hides substantial psychological pain and trama beneath her sunny smile.Much of the action surrounds Chihiro, a mysterious boy who celebrates Saku's birthday with her, and then, in the grand tradition of shojo manga, appears as a transfer student to her school. Chihiro is the one person who really see Saku, and understands her, but when she goes to talk to him, she is brutally rebuffed. Chihiro has pitted himself against everyone in an effort to stay 'strong' believing that since you can't save anyone else from their pain, it's best to do nothing at all and stay as little involved as possible. But Saku, who has fallen for Chihiro, gets under his skin in a way he wasn't prepared for.The thing I love best about Takaya's work is how deep and true she cuts to the emotional truths, to those issues we all have, be they self esteeem, or trusting other people, the way that casual cruelty and neglect and dislike leave their mark. Her characters are always flawed, but usually they recognize their own issues and try to work through them. The message always seems to be No, the world is not perfect and yes, people are cruel. But there's still people who are kind. As long as you don't lose hope, as long as you can keep moving forward, you'll meet those people.The scenes of Saku trying so hard to be a daughter they will love, and getting cruelly, brutally rebuffed every time, are heartbreaking. She blames herself, asking, could she have done anything better, tried harder, been a better daughter, then maybe, maybe they would have loved her...All Saku wants is to be loved by her father and her step-mother, and she tries, and tries and tries, and gets nothing. Chihiro is the first person who tells her, "You've been trying so hard, haven't you? Good for you." That's all she ever wanted, really."There are some people who you just can't get through to, no matter how hard you try." Chihiro tells her. "But some people, some people you can."