________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 20 . . . . January 27, 2012


Darkest Light.

Hiromi Goto. Illustrated by Jillian Tamaki.
Toronto, ON: Razorbill/Penguin Group (Canada), 2012.
327 pp., hardcover, $21.00.
ISBN 978-0-670-06527-1.

Grades 7-10 / Ages 12-15.

Review by Ann Ketcheson.

Reviewed from Uncorrected Proofs.

**** /4



The blackness writhed.

Undulating, heaving, the bin wasn’t empty – it was so full of rats they moved like dark liquid. Several leapt from the bin, their white teeth bared, glinting with black blood.

Lilla launched from Gee’s arm. She flew through the air, jaws open wide, to plug a rat’s head into her gaping mouth. They both fell to the wet lawn.

The rat frantically scrabbled with its claws, scraping at the edges of her mouth.

Gee held his breath. His heart thudded unbearably. A sour sweet saliva pooling in the back of his mouth.

The rat, plugged inside Lilla’s maw, scratched wildly at her cheeks, her throat, but its claws only slicked off the dense slime the eel was exuding in her excitement. The rodent tried to yank its head out, but Lilla’s inward-pointing teeth only dug in deeper. They flipped about on the dark lawn to the sounds of the rat’s muffled screeching, the wet thwap, thwap of the eel’s body.

Gee giggled. He slapped his hand over his mouth. What was he doing? It wasn’t funny!

Yes it is, it is, it is! It’s hilarious. It’s delicious. It’s fucking brilliant!

The eel whipped back and forth and the rat was tossed about, its long tail snapping loudly.

Gee’s lips began spreading in a loose grin.

The rat shuddered, its tail quivering Lilla bit down and jerked her head backward, stripping the fur away from the rodent’s body as if she were pulling off a sweater. The rat’s raw torso, glistening pale grey like an oyster, fell out of her jaws. Its lower half was still intact and matted with slime. It looked like it was wearing wet fur trousers.

Saliva filled the back of Gee’s maw. He didn’t know if it was nausea or hunger.

Darkest Light is the sequel to Hiromi Goto’s Half World. Melanie returned from Half World in the earlier novel, and it seemed balance had been restored, but now the nightmare begins again. It is 16 years later, and Melanie’s brother, Gee, is the focus of attention. Gee was adopted as a baby and has never been told the truth about his family. Compelled to find out, he leaves his grandmother and his usual life in order to go to Half World and confront his own past. Gee does not face the journey alone but is accompanied by two very unlikely helpers: a talking Cat and a surly Neo Goth girl named Cracker.

      This novel again uses Goto’s settings of three separate realms through which all humans must pass. On earth, all exist in the Realm of Flesh. After death, all move to Half World, a sort of purgatory where they are forced to endlessly endure life’s suffering. Those caught in Half World come to understand that, by eating other creatures, they gain strength and energy and can temporarily postpone their suffering. Eventually, however, they realize this is merely a delay and they begin their time in Half World and the suffering which goes with it all over again. Finally, they pass through suffering and into the Realm of Spirit. The cycle never ends, thus keeping all three realms in balance.

      Goto‘s novel encompasses horror and fantasy and mythology, taking her readers into a nightmarish world of rats and eels, creatures with rotting flesh and the odours of putrid decay. Not only do Gee and Cracker enter this world, they are pursued by demon-like characters, named Ilanna and Karu, who are intent on capturing Gee and forcing him to remain forever in the midst of Half World trauma, surrounded by threats and violence.

      The obvious theme of the novel is a coming-of-age story where Gee, an unhappy and unpopular teen, faces critical choices and must learn to be strong and confident in his decisions. But Goto does not give her readers the ‘happy ever after’ ending they might expect. Gee weighs his options at the end of the novel and knows what is right both for him and his family and his friend, Cracker. This reviewer won’t spoil Goto’s finale.

      Gee is faced with more than the evil and temptations of the world around him. There is also a malicious voice in his head which continually tempts him with bad options. For instance when Cracker hesitates during one scene in the book, Gee hears “Ditch her, the darkness inside him suggested. Pitch her over the side before she causes you trouble.” ( p. 135) It is one thing to be a superhero and fight the forces of evil but quite a different scenario when one perceives the potential for evil comes from within

      Along with the quest for self-discovery, Gee and Cracker are both looking for family in Half World. Gee doesn’t know anything about his parents but feels the answers lie in Half World and is determined to find them. Cracker was unable to prevent her sister Klara from committing suicide. Perhaps by finding her sister, Cracker feels, she may also find some measure of atonement. Thus Goto deals with similar themes to her earlier novel: loss, grief, the strength of family ties, and love.

      In all of The Three Realms, darkness and light exist. In all people, darkness and light exist. Goto seems to be telling her readers that it is only by delving into the darkest places that one may eventually find something approaching enlightenment. Readers who are willing to accompany her on the voyage to the ugly and terrible Half World will appreciate the hopeful signs of light at the end of the horrific tunnel.

Highly Recommended.

Ann Ketcheson, a retired high school teacher-librarian and teacher of English and French, lives in Ottawa, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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