by Matt Reeves
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.