Saturday, December 11, 2010

Book Review: Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime

A few weeks ago, Yen Press was holding a lot of twitter contests (this was back in July actually) and won a copy of Book Girl on the last day. Just a quick note before hand (seem to do this with all my reviews don't I?), it seems that in the US/UK/AU/CA/NZ authors agree on the number of books in a series in their contract ahead of time. The pattern I've noticed for light novels (that's what YA is called in Japan) is that the authors write the first book, get lucky (win an award, the book sells well, gets auctioned for a show/movie, ect)and then write sequels with no clear ending in sight for all of them. So, not only are the books shorter (longer western YA novels that come over like Eragon or Twilight get broken up into smaller novels) but they don't have as strong a central plot thread that a US/UK/AU/CA/NZ usually does. Oh, and they have illustrated pictures, that part of which I wholeheartedly approve of.
That all said, onto the cover!

YP seems to change the covers of all the light novels they have now that I think about it. The change here isn't huge (the original cover was just the picture of the girl) although I'm not sure it looks "better." The only thing that's annoying me is that they use block prints for the logo and those are actually backwards in real life (I know I know, really silly thing to get annoyed about but couldn't they have chosen something else then?).

Summary: Konoha is a former child author (an aspect of his life which really embarrasses him now) who has been dragged into the literature club in his high school to write stories for Tohko to eat. Yes, eat, she's a "literature gobbling demon"* who eats books instead of human food and loves hand written stories the best of all. Plus she's set up a new ploy to get food, a romantic help service with the promise of a written report at the end, but the story shes getting from that is not the kind she was hoping for.

The Good: One thing I find refreshing in light novels/manga in general is the Japanese approach to the supernatural. The West uses the supernatural more as a romantic framing device ("oh look, he's handsome and dangerous" and yes it's always a guy) while in Japanese works the supernatural is just an ordinary part of life for the characters. Even though it's hardly normal to have a book eating schoolmate** Konoha seems to accept the fact fairly easily and just lives with it. Beyond that little detail in the setting, even though I suspected this would be a double-climax book (just by page count as I was reading) it was still neat to see it pulled off and the characters questioning their lives, their purposes, and their revenge was very very Japanese so again, the cultural differences made this a much more interesting read than I had hoped.
The Bad: There were a few times I didn't understand the characters actions (which I shall blame on the fact that Japanese emos seem to be pretty different from American emos) but that was only a few times, so even less than some western YA I read. Probably should have made a character sheet since all the "S" names started getting me tripped up (thankfully a number of the characters are in the illustrated pages) and I am worried about how the next books will be able to hold together as a series but all in all I had no big problems with it.

So, it was a light read but a much better one than I was expecting, deeper than expected as well (and I want to try out some of the Japanese authors mentioned within the story, fingers crossed that translations exist). And it seems that YP has plans to release all 8 of the main novels now but no idea what they'll do for the short story collections or side story volumes (also hope that the movie+OVA come out over here). As for similar stories I'm having trouble coming up with any that are pretty similar. I don't watch/read too many school-focused stories and I do know a lot of stories with spirits in them but they're related to the central part of the manga, as strange as it sounds Tohko's book eating is seen as more of a quirk than anything else in the story. Maybe xxxHolic but I feel like I'm stretching it here, if I think of anything I'll edit this and stick it in.

*sorry, no better way to put it since neither ghost, spirit, faerie, or monster really works, gah, the ambiguousness of the word "yokai"
**Drawing a blank here, does anyone know of a similar Western spirit/faerie? I can't actually recall anything but I was sure we had something like that.