CM . . .
. Volume XV Number 10. . . .January 9, 2009
Hiromi Goto. Illustrated by Jillian Tamaki.
Toronto, ON: Puffin Canada, 2009.
190 pp., hardcover, $20.00.
Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.
Review by Ann Ketcheson.
Reviewed from Prepublication Copy.
The dorm was mostly empty. A few women and girls were either sitting listlessly on their cots or watching a television set up in the far corner of the room. They did not take notice of Melanie at all, trapped in a stupor of their repeat Half Life.
A young woman, not much older than Melanie, was picking at the stitches in her arm. Her dark raw scar ran from her wrist to the inside of her elbow.
Melanie fought the urge to tell her stop. She cannot die, she reminded herself furiously. She will just repeat this over and over again. It was horrific.
This had to stop.
Melanie angrily began opening lockers. No one cared or noticed.
After several tries she found one that contained a cleaner's uniform. It looked like it would fit. She grabbed the clothing and went into the dorm bathroom. Melanie could hear the sound of deep retching coming from one of the stalls.
She ducked into a changing room and closed the door. The room had a long mirror, and someone had left her toiletries, a curling iron and a blow dryer on the ledge. A small sample vial of a perfume called Poison. Melanie set the 8 Ball on the counter and unzipped the large makeup bag. Inside were scissors, tubes and jars of makeup, pencil liners and shadow. Melanie quickly changed into the nondescript uniform. Her name badge, she saw, was Gladys.
"Gladys, Gladys, Gladys, Gladys," she muttered beneath her breath so that she would remember.
Melanie Tamaki is an unlikely adventure heroine: overweight, a target for school bullies, afraid of anything unusual. However, when her mother is lured back to Half World, Melanie doesn't hesitate to follow despite the many obstacles placed in her way. Can she get to Half World in time to save her mother? Or will she succumb to the nefarious Dr. Glueskin and his hoard of semi-human/semi-animal followers?
Hiromi Goto bases her novel on the concept of three realms. Humans exist in the Realm of Flesh, and when they die, they move to Half World where they again work through the various problems they encountered in life. Once all has been resolved, they move on to the Realm of Spirit. Eventually, even there their light grows dim, and so they re-enter the Realm of Flesh once more, keeping all of the realms in balance. For some reason, however, the realms have become unbalanced, and those in Half World are locked into eternal suffering, unable to change realms. Melanie is chosen as the person to break the cycle and restore order to all three realms. In other words, she's chosen to save the universe!
Goto states that "dreams, mythological tales, Japanese folk legends, Japanese horror films, anime and newspaper articles… feed my imagination." Half World contains elements from many of these. Melanie is aided by magic, including a rat and crows – not one's usual choice of pets. In Half World, she sees "…Bosch-like creatures, fish-headed men, a puppy with a boy's face, hopping giant toads covered in bristling hairs, pig-like simians and even some things that looked more plant than animal." (p. 130). In typical fantasy fashion, time seems both to speed up and stand still.
Under the fantastic surface, however, Half World deals with several universal themes. This is a coming-of-age novel where Melanie, at first reliant on her mother and other adults, is forced to make her own decisions and choices and subsequently to deal with the consequences. She becomes a heroine by coping with the responsibilities thrust upon her. Goto is also interested in the themes of loss and grief. Melanie loses the most important person in her life, and readers watch her turn numbing grief into a reason for action. She gains some satisfaction by the end of the novel in knowing that her mother's spirit will always be with her. The love between a child and parent never dies.
Half World is not an easy book to read. Goto has filled the pages with nightmarish creatures and situations. Like Melanie, the reader hesitates and is reluctant to continue, but in the
end, both are driven to follow these very dark events to their ultimate conclusion.
Ann Ketcheson, a retired teacher-librarian and teacher of high school English and French, lives in Ottawa, ON, where she has turned her love of travel into a new career as a travel consultant.
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