Book Girl and the Famished Spirit Paperback – Jan 25 2011
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About the Author
Author Mizuki Nomura is best known for her light novel series, BOOK GIRL, which has been adapted into multiple manga franchises and was transformed into an animated film in 2010 by Production I.G. She currently resides in Japan.
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It would seem, that in this world of literature driven by stories of love-stricken vampires and dead cheerleaders, that the very works of fiction that helped pave the road to our modern way of reading have slowly been fading into the background. Perhaps it's because of our faster paced world, but with each passing decade, these novels have continued to drift farther into obscurity, to a point where most only recognize them by name. For many, this fact has proven more than troubling.
So, how can someone encourage new interest in these old bestsellers many still consider to this day to be timeless? It's a question that has continued to plague a large number of readers and authors for quite some time. Though numerous attempts have been made, including adding Zombies to the plot, the books themselves have still not grown more popular and many have begun to fear for their future in the world of literature.
Enter author Mizuki Nomura.
Book Girl and the Famished Spirit is the second book in the newly released Book Girl novel series from Japan, being brought over and translated courtesy of Yen Press. Having sold over 1.6 million copies, the series has received a large amount of popularity, spawning a number of comics and a series of theatrical films. It has repeatedly been listed among the top 10 bestselling and most popular YA titles since 2007.
The story revolves around the narrator and protagonist Konoha Inoue, a high school student who wrote a bestselling novel in middle school under a female pen name but whose popularity and secrecy drove him to the edge causing him to never want to write again. Now, ironically, he finds himself in a book club run by Tohko Amano, a girl one year his senior. And what task does President Tohko demand of Konoha? To write short stories. Why? Because Tohko has a bit of a secret herself. She eats books, literally, and she loves handwritten ones the best.
But when the club mailbox begins to receive cryptic messages filled with torn up numbers, Tohko decides that the two of them will stay after school and catch the culprit. What they discover, however, could prove more than they bargained for. With lives quickly put on the line, and a mystery that seems eerily familiar, the two must discover the difference between what separates the dead from the living... and fast.
When I wrote my review of the first Book Girl novel, Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime, back in September, I noted its strong storytelling and gripping investigation into the state of the human soul. In that book, the story had been woven intimately with the Japanese classic No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai. The book was excellent.
For Famished Spirit, I wasn't sure what to expect. Would it be as good as the Suicidal Mime, or better?
In the second installment of the series, Nomura basis's the story on the English classic Wuthering Heights. And as is the case with Suicidal Mime, the plot and even characters are inseparably tied with the work of Emily Brontë.
Though initially slow, the plot soon glides forward rapidly, gripping the reader under its spell even more magnetically than it did in the last book. Nomura's writing style remains consistent and manages to flow well, thanks in no small part to the excellent work of those at Yen Press.
If there is one thing remarkably different about Famished Spirit that helps separate it from Suicidal Mime, it would be the subject matter. Because the story is based off a new work of classic literature, the focus has changed. Instead of exploring the deepest crevices of the soul, the book zeroes in on human relationships and the results of misunderstandings and hate. The conclusions of this investigation prove nothing short of shocking, and readers will be hard pressed to find the strength to put down this volume till reaching the end.
Having never read Wuthering Heights, I found myself growing more and more curious about it as I read on. Nomura does a superb job of weaving the story intricately with an older work while never in the least confusing readers who have no previous knowledge of Brontë. And here lies one of the greatest aspects of the book series: Nomura has succeeded in writing a series of novels that not only stand alone as great works of literature, but also manage to spark interest in the reader to seek out the classic works that inspired it.
But, of course, I know what the biggest question is on many readers' minds. How does Famished Spirit compare overall with Suicidal Mime? That's a complicated question to answer for several reasons. The first is that, on the whole, Famished Spirit proves more gripping and interesting throughout than Suicidal Mime. While the earlier volume is driven by intrigue and slowly built up to a climax, Famished Spirit rushes full steam ahead for a majority of the story. The second reason is that, unlike in Suicidal Mime, the payoff at the end of Famished Spirit is bittersweet. Opinions will vary, but as for myself, I found the ending less fulfilling than the ending of Suicidal Mime. However, as was the case with the first book, Famished Spirit is, regardless, thought provoking and emotionally powerful. So, probably the best way I could put it is that both novels in the Book Girl series outdo one another in specific ways, and each is the better for it.
Book Girl and the Famished Spirit represents a splendid sequel. As gripping, if not more so, than the original, Mizuki Nomura weaves a spellbinding tale of deception, misconception, and revenge. Readers familiar with or estranged from the work of Emily Brontë will equally find something to love within these pages. The future of literature is looking brighter with every page Tohko Amano swallows, and every new reader who is inspired to pick up a book they would have otherwise had no interest in.
As with the first book, Book Girl and the Famished Spirit features self-styled "book girl" Tohko (a literature loving and eating goblin in schoolgirl form) and her force recruited book club junior Konoha. His job is to write Tohko snacks, and occasionally unravel strange events stemming from requests left in the club's personal mailbox.
Describing the series' concept and main characters is a bit of a problem because it makes the books sound different in tone and approach than what they are. Tohko's "unusual" appetite is largely just a character trait in a sense - the stories at this point do not center around it nor explain what she is. Her love of literature is much more relevant. Also the absurdity and strangeness of the premise might seem to indicate light, whimsical tales. Not so.
FAIR WARNING - while extremely well written, compelling, and laced with subtle touches of humor, the Book Girl series is incredibly dark and deals with very heavy themes.
Creepy doesn't even begin to describe the events Tohko and Konoha get caught up in this time, and it starts with a disturbing opening page description of an unknown character deciding to kill someone. A few pages of prologue follow recounting Konoha's disastrous brush with fame in the past and the specters that still haunt him. It's done in wonderfully direct fashion and before the fist chapter has even begun Nomura reintroduced the main character, discussed his personal demons in a way that ties to the themes of this particular story, and established a gripping, chilling atmosphere that will continue throughout the book.
Strange notes in the club mailbox and the possibility of a ghostly presence are only the beginning. As Tohko and Konoha approach an answer from different angles they'll each run afoul of distinct, unusual personalities and mysterious happenings. The supporting cast contains a good mix of familiar faces from the first book and newcomers, and is used remarkably well to build a multilayered mystery that gets scarier and more dangerous the more it unravels. The suspense elements are nicely done, with some pieces falling into place as the reader goes and some vital connections remaining elusive until they are explained. The clues are in place though, and the author "plays fair" with the storyline and the readers.
There is again a nice literary tie in to the themes and progression of the plot which is fully understandable even if you haven't read the associated works.
The writing flows well, is dripping with emotion and really establishes the proper feeling and atmosphere for the story. This is a great accomplishment both on the part of the author and the translator. The descriptions are quite detailed in parts but I never felt like the pace suffered. If fact I found the story moved along at quite a good clip while still fully conveying what was happening at any given time.
Despite being quite unsettled at times, I was very impressed with Book Girl and the Famished Spirit. But know what you're getting into before reading. This is a very odd series that meanders a little sometimes, hits hard and isn't afraid to deal with dark, depressing topics. What's done with it all is top notch so if you can handle the caveats I mentioned I highly recommend checking out this strange duo's adventures.
There's a lot about this light novel that I liked. I think what stood out to me first and foremost about this light novel was that it was such a dark and somber book at times. It's very adult in tone when you get down to it, which makes it a stark contrast to books such as the Haruhi Suzumiya, which tend to focus more on crazy antics. Those series do have some serious subject matters, but ultimately tend to look at the lighter side of teenage life in surreal surroundings.
Not so with the Book Girl series. It's a light novel, which means that none of the subject matter will delve too deeply into the tougher stuff. However at the same time, the series doesn't exactly shy away from it either. Let's just say that death does occur as far as this particular book is concerned and some of the events here are bloody and depressing. This isn't exactly something you'd hand a very young reader.
I have to use this point to sort of elaborate on what made this a four star read rather than a five star. It's the very nature of this series that sort of works against it at times. We're given enough to where the characters are fleshed out enough to make the story work and for us to mostly care for everyone, but the subject matter here (eating disorders, obsession, death of Wuthering Heights proportions) really sort of longed to be more fully developed. It's more of a tease when you get down to it and I can't help but feel that some readers will get frustrated when they finally turn the last page. It's the type of story that will undoubtedly do well when the animated adaptation hits, as they'll be able to do far more than the original story contained.
Overall, I highly recommend this to anyone looking to get into light novels but wants to avoid the stuff that's more along the lines of Haruhi Suzumiya (a great series, but not for everyone). It's a surprisingly adult book and one that I hope Yen Press releases the entirety of.
The only thing that bothered me was the somewhat cliche ending where "mysterious character has a mysterious unnamed wasting disease" because it's always a little too convenient and is designed to tug, no yank, on heart strings. After such strong emotional manipulation in the book, such a cheap trick seems to clash with the author's hard work and seem like a too-tidy way to dispose of that character at too-convenient a moment. Other than that, this book was a pretty good follow-up to Suicidal Mime.