I was prompted to pop these two books to the top of my reading queue after reading this review of the second book at Erica Friedman’s blog. I’m glad I did, and I can’t wait for the third volume in the series to come out in August.
Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime
Tohko Amano is a “book girl”. She lives on books — devouring them. Literally and literately. She will read a page, then tear it out and chew it slowly, relishing the flavors and describing them in terms that would make a gourmet blush. The narrator of this novel teases her for being a “book-eating goblin”, but she is a charming one.
To feed her habit, she has ensnared Konoha Inoue, a first-year student as the only other member of her book-club. Every day after school she challenges him to write an improvisational story on a theme of her choosing, which she will then consume. To feed her taste for romantic adventure, she has installed a mailbox on the school-yard, with the note that “describe them for us, and the Book Club will solve your romantic problems”. Their first customer is a clumsy duckling of a first-year student who has a crush on a member of the archery club.
After hearing her story, Tohko tells her that the club (meaning the long-suffering Konoha) will provide her with love-letters that she can copy and send to her crush. The price: she is to write a report on how things go.
Konoha writes the letters, but soon grows curious. He asks a classmate, also in the archery club, about the boy the girl has a crush on, and finds that there is no one like that in the archery club. When he confronts the girl, she insists that the boy exists.
On further investigation, Tohko and Inoue discover that the boy committed suicide ten years earlier.
What follows is a mystery that resonates with ghosts in Inoue’s own past, that culminates in a harrowing scene dangling from a rooftop.
For Inoue does have ghosts, and they serve to make him a much more interesting narrator than seems common in light novels. The characterizations are well-done and believable (a far cry from the wordy affectless artificiality of Nisio Isin’s Zaregoto books, despite Tohko’s supernatural nature). Inoue can be almost as snarky as Haruhi Suzumiya’s Kyon, but with Tohko a far more charming character than Haruhi, I think the books may wear better with succeeding volumes.
Tohko is a delightful nerd, a book otaku.
The translation is superb — indeed, I ceased to be aware that I was reading a translation. Yen Press recommends the books for fifteen and up, probably because of the discussion of teenage suicide, but I don’t think it’s inappropriate for anyone over 12.
Book Girl and the Famished Spirit
Volume two of the Book Girl series continues the promise of the first, but takes a much darker turn.
Mysterious letters — some in a numeric code — begin to appear in the Book Club’s mailbox. When Tohko seeks information from a friend, she learns that the letters and coded messages relate to an old campus ghost story.
Tohko dismisses the possibility of the letters being the work of a ghost, and drags Inoue into the bushes to stake out the mailbox in order to catch the person who is putting the letters in the box.
Try as they might, more letters appear in the box without them catching the culprit.
Then black lilies are delivered to the Book Club’s clubroom with ominous notes.
This novel is a good deal darker, and tells a tragic story of abuse and obsession that justifies its 15+ recommendation. It’s still a ripping good yarn.
Book Girl and the two-layered mysteries
These books each contain at least two puzzles to delight the reader. First there is the straightforward mystery tale being told. Second is the mystery of what book is being used for inspiration, and how this book’s plot and themes differ from the inspiration. In The Suicidal Mime, we’re introduced to the book early on, in The Famished Spirit a number of books play an important role. This just adds to the savor of these books, but knowledge of the books isn’t necessary to your enjoyment.
Yen Press’s publicists should seek out critics who have given favorable notice to Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next novels and send them review copies.