I was introduced to Hitomi Kanehara at an author event with Melvin Burgess. He talked about several YA books by Japanese authors who didn't try to wriI was introduced to Hitomi Kanehara at an author event with Melvin Burgess. He talked about several YA books by Japanese authors who didn't try to write about adults in teenage disguise but about real teenagers. I was very intrigued and bought the tiny book that is Snakes and Earrings. My friend Sabrina and I read it and we just couldn't stop thinking and talking about this book.
The book has extremely explicit content and I will mention that content in my review, so if you are faint-hearted, please, do not read any further. (I'm talking about tattoos, piercings, sex, alcohol, drugs, self mutilation)
Lui, self destruction and depression As my friend pointed out, Lui is possibly suffering from depression. half of the time she feels numb and the other she abuses her body in all possible way, in an attempt to feel something. But the book is extremely surprising and what you feel will happen to Lui doesn't really happen. You never know if you have to blame Lui for what happens or pity her, and I felt that the book wasn't exactly about this. It is a glimpse into this girl's self destructive circle. She stays with Ama and you can see he has so many feelings for her that she is incapable to share or reciprocate. Lui is also a masochist, she enjoys being hurt in sexual relations. I would link this to the fact that she has no respect for her body, but anyone could have these tastes. It is undeniably creepy to read some of the scenes, but it is interesting to see how Lui conceives it in her head.
Counter-culture in Japan The depiction of counter-culture in Japan is simply mesmerizing. This is why I love reading translated books from foreign countries, you learn so much! I had no idea that groups like "Barbie girls" and "punks" were so distinctive in Japan. It is also always very interesting to read about people living on the fringe. Our lives are so organised and ruled by social conventions that sometimes we might forget who we are. People living on the fringe don't have this need to abide by the rules and are, in a way, much more natural than we are. The book also shows a new generation. If earlier generations were rebellious or ambitious, we are, if anything, a bored generation. Nothing surprises us or moves us. We have even stopped dreaming. We live in a state of suspension from which nothing can shake us except fake emotions and convictions. When I read about Lui's story, I saw that in her.
Tattoos and piercing To which extent are they a form of art? This is an endless question and there isn't one answer. As a fan of the form of art, I would agree with Shiba's vision of them. They are a way to magnify the body, not change it. Whereas Lui doesn't have any respect or consideration for her body. The book is an interesting way to explore this theme and see the two visions. By experience, not two tattoo artist or tattooed person have the same conception of what a tattoo or a piercing is. As widespread as the practice might be, it is a very personal experience. Lui is first attracted to Ama because she is fascinated by his forked tongue. She decides to do this to herself (the process includes to get your tongue pierced and then to stretch the hole progressively). She also wants a unique tattoo and asks Shiba to design it. The descriptions are completely realistic and people not familiar with them might be a little put off.
The style of the book I feel that this book wants to depict reality as it is and not create a false image of teenagers with a conscience or with any sense of responsability. I find the style haunting. This story creeps on you and you find yourself vehemently disliking Lui for what she does to herself and others. But she grows on you at some point.
This is a masterpiece of a book. It is short but will give you a sense of whole which only a 700+ pages book can do. It is simply marvelous and an incredible way to make you discover another culture, another way of life, and yourself - maybe - in the process.
It may be a Young Adult book but obviously not for our standards since it was published as an adult book in the UK and has so much explicit content I cannot even begin to enumerate it. So consider yourself informed!...more
Sobibor is one of those books that grips you from the very first sentence and never lets you go. You feel unable to take your eyes off the pages, norSobibor is one of those books that grips you from the very first sentence and never lets you go. You feel unable to take your eyes off the pages, nor hide what you are feeling by closing the book. The raw images and situations are laid in front of the reader’s eye for him/her to discover what he/she never dared think about and try to understand.
The book is divided by two plots. The first one sees Emma progressively destroy herself. She has been anorexic since the beginning of puberty where her body started to change into one of a woman. She is deeply disturbed and prefers isolating herself from all the others rather than change herself. The book begins when Emma is caught stealing in a supermarket. The manager of the shop reveals to be a nice man wanting to help rather than an accuser. The second plot is in the form of a journal written by French man Jacques Desroches during the Second World War where he joins the German forces in an extermination camp in Poland called Sobibor. The diary was found by Emma in her grandmother home after her death. Emma is haunted by that journal and the acts of cruelty described in it.
The description Emma makes of herself and of her body are incredibly powerful. I was deeply shocked and disturbed by how she perceived the changes in her body. She says that she is not the same person anymore, that she can’t bear to have curves. She says “to be in control”. She refuses to eat or stuffs herself and vomits. She is afraid to grow up and become a woman. Her story is heart-breaking and acts as a complete electroshock.
One of the strongest points of Sobibor is the intensity of the writing. May it be in the cold descriptions of the extermination of the Jewish people or in Emma’s description of her body and what she inflicts on herself.
I am disturbed by Emma’s parents who don’t react to their daughter’s illness and behaviour, but I come to realize that, sometimes, the ones closest to you don’t see you. They don’t see you for who you are but for what they think you are, not bothering with the specifics. It is also much easier to choose not to see things. On the contrary, Emma’s boyfriend Julien recognizes the first signs of the disease and tries to help. Emma’s raw emotions are described with such clarity that it is hard not to find it sick at times. But her illness isn’t something you can gloss over with beautiful and poetic descriptions. Jean Molla’s way of describing Emma’s state of mind are truly amazing.
I was very interested and touched by the character of the supermarket manager. His take on life, his job and all the people coming in his shop with their histories, their miseries and needs is fascinating.
The whole part of the journal is also fascinating. Collaboration is a taboo subject in France. Kids learn at school the importance of Resistance and that the French, under Charles de Gaulle, were among the winners of the war. Unfortunately, anti-semitic and superior race ideas did exist in France as well, and many actors in the French political scene weren’t against German ideas (though I am not saying they were for extermination camps either). This book shows how a despicable (there is no other word) human being justified his actions. The book is studied in schools and has indeed received many children/student awards in France.
The book is as much about anorexia and body image as the sense of history and transmitting one’s ideas. It is also about secrecy and choosing to see things and ignore others. In his postscript, Jean Molla says that there is no evident link between anorexia and the extermination camps except that sometimes, big stories intertwine with smaller ones to create another Story. He explains that “this book is an attempt to dispel those secrets” that keep building up in people’s lives, and the need to talk about them....more
Schoolgirl takes you on the emotional rollercoaster that is a day in the mind of a teenage girl. The girl might seem like a regular teenager on the ouSchoolgirl takes you on the emotional rollercoaster that is a day in the mind of a teenage girl. The girl might seem like a regular teenager on the outside, whining like a spoilt child and preoccupied by mundane things, but on the inside she lays bare her personality. It is slightly voyeuristic to read as we are privvy to her most intimate thoughts. The girl is on the verge of womanhood and you can feel how desoriented she is by the whole process of growing up and dealing with her isolation and grief. Her father has passed away and she is trying to live with her grieving mother and without her sister who has moved away to live with her husband.
This very short coming of age story is quite simply perfect. In one day of the girl's life, we can get a glimpse of her personality, her aspirations and her sadness. All her emotions are more intense as if everything was seen through a magnifying glass. Happy moments are lived ecstatically and down times take a form of gloomy depression which seems to drain the life out of her. This entire day spent in her head is an exercise of introspection where she thinks about herself and how she can improve her actions to be the person she aspires to be.
A sort of duality comes out when we realise that the girl is conscious of her own flaws and of being quite unremarkable, but at the same time craving for more and for something extra-ordinary to take place. Her opinion of herself is quite bad as she is aiming for purity and anything less looks "uninspired". On that account, she is wholly uncompromising and that is why she is quite severe in her opinion of others. She wants to be herself and genuine but at the same time she realises that she doesn't have much to offer the world. "I want to live beautifully" is her aspiration but she knows that "genuine beauty is always meaningless, without virtue".
The girl also wants to be taken seriously and as an adult. Away from the innocence of youth, she is old enough to see when her mother lies or pretends not to be hurt by her grief. By wanting to be taken seriously she also wants her mother and others to pay attention to her. She loves reading and thinking about someone else's life as she says "The sly ability to steal someone else's experience and recreate it as if it were my own is the only real talent I possess."
This is a very short book whose message seems to me quite universal. It is definitely a must read for teenage girls (and parents of teenage girls for that matter). The writing is beautiful and I spent the whole time highlighting sentences (that's why I have been quoting the book during the review). The first person point of view is a trademark style for Osamu Dazai. He is considered as one of the most important fiction writer of the 20th century Japan.
It is as much a work of fiction about a teenage girl as a very interesting basis for a discussion on the various themes present in the book: individuality, feminity, beauty, etc....more
I can't even begin to tell you how much I loved this book!!
Everything I loved from The Shadow of The Wind is there, with a paranormal young adult spinI can't even begin to tell you how much I loved this book!!
Everything I loved from The Shadow of The Wind is there, with a paranormal young adult spin (aka *perfection*). I loved following Max and his sister Alicia through this adventure. The characters are very well described and they feel so real with their tiny flaws and habits that it is a real pleasure to read. This book has the atmosphere of old gothic/horror novels where the characters are in a pretty regular setting and then something unexpected, dark and frightening happens which turns the situation upside down.
Reading this story has made me think about how fortunate we are today in Europe, USA and other countries not to have a war going on inside our frontiers. Of course many of our troups may be waging war/bringing peace in parts of the world, but we don't really know what a civil war is anymore. In this book, the setting is Second World War Spain. The country had been living a very brutal Civil War from 1936 and when WWII broke out, Spain aligned itself with Germany at first but progressively adopted a neutral stance. When the story of Max Carver starts in 1943, Spain doesn't take part in the Second World War but is a dictature with a very strong repression which will only end in 1975. You can read The Shadow of The Wind if you want to have an idea on how much the Franco regime has scarred the Spanish psyche.
Sorry, I got a little carried away here! Anyways, I *love* reading a good fiction where I learn something about history or another culture (which sort of the aim of this meme) and here I loved looking at this family obliged to move cities to avoid the war. The story is told from a third person point of view, and I liked how it seemed to give more insight to the characters' personalities. The themes of growing up are very well treated in the book, and I loved the romance which builds up between Alicia and Roland.
I have to admit that the absence of both parents from a large part of the book is what I would call quite a convenient plot development but which doesn't kill the whole story either. The universe created by Carlos Ruiz Zafón is so rich, and yet not completely overwhelming, that any weakness is instantly forgotten.
I am fervently hoping that his three other Young Adult novels will get translated soon!!
This is book is such a quick enjoyable story that it is the perfect summer read. I would advise it to anyone going to the beach this summer (since part of the book takes place on a beach during the summer). You probably won't look at those seemingly harmless shadows lurking under your feet in the water the same way. Just saying ;-)...more
This is one of the most beautiful stories I ever read about friendship.
Kiyama, Kawabe and Yamashita are three young friends who spend their time betweThis is one of the most beautiful stories I ever read about friendship.
Kiyama, Kawabe and Yamashita are three young friends who spend their time between school, cram school and sports. Neither has the best of situations at home or is the most popular at school, but they rely on each other. When Yamashita's grandmother passes away, the boys voice their concerns, beliefs and questions about death. It turns out that they are all fascinated by it, not in a morbid way, but they are just afraid of the unknown. Kawabe's mother talks about an old neighbour who is on the verge of death, and the boys decide to see for themselves what death is about and start spying on the old man. When the old man realises what the boys are doing, an interesting friendship develops.
I haven't read many YA books which talk about death the way this one does. The boys are young and innocent and they have genuine concerns about death. They don't really know what it's like to grow old and they certainly don't know what happens when a person dies. In a theme linked to death, the book also mentions old age and by observing the old man, the boys understand better what happens when a person grows old. The friendship they have with the old man is so adorable and shows just how much people can benefit from inter-generational contacts. The story also stresses the point how people can change throughout their lives and how one day's action doesn't mold your personality forever. There really is a before and an after in the boys' personality and it really is quite interesting to see this develop in a 100 pages or so.
The book is also about friendship and there really isn't anything like your childhood friends who know you for who your are, flaws included, and who accept you without ever judging you. The three boys don't have the perfect family or school life but they have each other and that's what matters. Their friendship progresses as the story goes and you know that what happens during that summer when they are spying on the old man will stay with them forever.
This is a very short book but I felt that the length was just right in this one. All the aspects of the story are balanced and there is enough character description and depth to the story that I didn't feel the story needed anything more.
The writing is also very subtle and because the story is seen through Kiyama's eyes, it is also very believable. There are some very emotional moments in the book and I have been very touched by the story (read = I cried my heart out).
This is a truly beautiful book and I just want to share it with as many people as I can (really, that's how much I loved it!). It is brilliant for both boys and girls, for middle grade and older readers, and it is also a brilliant book to discuss (may it be the friendship, solidarity, death and the relations between younger and older generations). Trust me on this one, read it! ...more
Real World is a small book which creeps up on you. The story is in turns narrated by four teenage girls: Toshi who always wants to do the right thing,Real World is a small book which creeps up on you. The story is in turns narrated by four teenage girls: Toshi who always wants to do the right thing, the intellectual Terauchi, Yuzan who is trying to overcome the grief after her mother passed away and who has to deal with her homosexuality and Kirarin who isn't a sweet innocent girl as she would like to let on. Toshi's neighbour gets killed and the teenage girl thinks she knows who did it: the woman's son, Worm. When Toshi's phone and bike are stolen by Worm and he contacts the four girls, a psychological thriller develops as he tries to plays one girl against the other and as each girl tries to play him.
The book is as much about the murder of Worm's mother as it is about the teenage girls. Natsuo Kirino's talent is to really get those teenagers in all their angst and boredom and how they build a world around them to shroud their real selves. While reading, you get a strong sense of discrepancy between the girls' "social" self and what you can hear inside their heads. You do wonder how those four very different girls could ever be friends, but they have at least in common the masked personality and a willingness to hide it. You get a real sense that no matter how different those 5 teenagers are, they share the same culture and a lot of beliefs.
The book is quite haunting in the sense that you want to shout to the girls to stop playing with Worm, or to Worm to get a life, but you can only stand and watch while they continue getting deeper and deeper. You don't really understand if this attraction the girls have for Worm is a mix of fascination for violence or boredom, but you realise that the four girls are a bit more than they let on to the others and not as naive as one might think. Each girl has her own issues and they are all trying to fight society's expectations in them and get away from the conformity that is demanded of them.. You can see their curiosity to the outside world and how they just want to get out of the boxes they live in, no matter how comfortable those boxes are.
Worm is as affected by people's expectations as the girls are and even imprisons himself in them when he wants to give a meaning to what he did. Japan isn't a stranger to those crimes and there has been some anxiety in the country over a possible youth crisis where teenagers would lean to violent behaviours because of the rigidity of the school system.
The writing is very good and you can't even tell this is a translation of a work originally written in a foreign language. I have read this more than six months ago and I can still remember what I felt when I read this book.
I definitely recommend the book in general to people who are interested in Japanese culture because there are some very interesting scenes about the girls' lifestyles in there, but fans of noir fiction/psychological thrillers will definitely fall for this book.
Info: There are some violent and upsetting scenes in the book so I wouldn't recommend the book to anyone under 14 years old....more
The book takes place in the countryside in the South of Italy. Ammaniti is absolutely brilliant at describing this tiny village next to the small townThe book takes place in the countryside in the South of Italy. Ammaniti is absolutely brilliant at describing this tiny village next to the small town of Acqua Traverse. The reader can really feel as if they are right there with the characters during this scorching hot summer.
Historical background of the story: You have to know that Italy is a divided country between North and South. The unity of the country was 'only' brought in the 1870s, and, other than differences in terms of idioms (in some rural parts of Italy, the local idiom is used more than the Italian language by the population) and culture, the North and the South are divided economically and, thus, socially and politically. With the Industrial Revolution, the North became quickly very wealthy and didn't see with a good eye the redistribution of wealth to the poor agricultural South. Several decades later, this hostility is still patent. The book is set in the 1970s, where corruption and criminality was still very high. I am not telling you all this to bore you to death (no really, I don't!) but because this poverty, especially in the South of Italy, is the background of this story.
The story: Michele Ammitrano (9 years old) lives in a very poor village in the South of Italy, all the adults of the village have to go to work in the North or in a big city outside the village to survive and provide for their families. They might not like each other, and even bad mouth one another, but all the families are there in the same boat, so they help each other out by giving food, clothes and exchanging what they can. The kids of the village all play together. They are very poor and even second hand toys and bicycles are a luxury, they mainly play outdoors with stray dogs or invented games. They have all very different personalities, and, in other circumstances, they would never be friends. But they are stuck together in this small village in the middle of the summer without a pool or a lake to cool themselves. One day, Michele loses a race and has to climb in an abandoned house. While jumping out a window on a tree outside, he falls on a mattress which is put on top of a hole to hide it. Michele looks inside. The hole isn't empty, and what he will find will change his life. At first, Michele doesn't talk about what he found to anyone. But in a small village, there is only so much you can hide.
The style of the book: The style is uncharacteristically very fast and gripping. Italian is a very rich language you can play with for several lines without feeling the need to end the sentence. In this book, the sentences are very short and straight to the point. They make you sit at the edge of your chair, turning frantically the pages to read the end. The end which you will probably find disappointing - all this tension for a cliffhanger, REALLY? The setting is wonderfully described and the characters are very well brought up to the story and are very typical. Michele's mother is the real "Mamma italiana" who is, in turn, as ruthless as a pittbull and as sweet as an apricot pie in the sun. (*cough* Hi Mum!) The poverty of these people is very cleverly shown and only picky idiots persons like myself could write paragraphs and paragraphs on it :)
The story is very, very dark. Just so you know, this was published as an adult book in Italy (and UK) at first, but it has now been given a new cover in the UK and has been put in the YA section. It is hard to say that this is a beautiful story, considering the gruesome details which are not spared to the reader. The subject isn't very happy-making either, but the realism and the ideas behind the story are definitely worth your chills. I wouldn't advise this book to the younger young readers nor the faint-hearted....more