After signing up for the Worlds Without Ends Women of Genre Fiction year long reading challenge, I had to choose who I wanted to read and what I wanted to read by them. Conveniently, the website had a list of authors and their books. I tried to choose authors I hadn’t heard of or read before. Among these was Hiromi Goto. I chose her young adult novel Half World, which tells the story of Melanie Tamaki, her ill-fated mother, and Melanie’s quest to reunite the Three Realms.
Melanie hasn’t had an easy time of life. She is fat, does poorly in school, and has a drunk for a mother. For these reasons, she is frequently bullied by her peers. After running away from the torment one day, Melanie returns home to discover that her mother has seemingly abandoned her. The truth is far more sinister, and thus begins Melanie’s epic quest to Half World to save her mother from the deranged Mr. Glueskin.
Half World is much like limbo, where people constantly relive the trauma of their death. Because the inhabitants of Half World have relived this trauma over and over for thousands of years (since the three Realms were initially separated) many of them have become mad, twisted creatures, frequently compared to Hieronymous Bosch’s famous creatures in the Hell panel of the Garden of Earthly Delights. As it soon becomes clear, Melanie must not only save her mother, but also reunite the three Realms and restore balance to the universe.
The Realm of Half World, for all its gruesomeness, sounds fascinating. Readers have already drawn apt comparisons to Neil Gaiman, Charles De Lint, and China Mievelle, so I won’t drag that out. What’s a little disappointing about Half World is that we get to see so very little of it. Melanie lands right where she needs to be (a hotel that reminded me of Sartre’s hell) and never explores the half-built mishmash of the city and its twisted inhabitants. This is a much more straight-forward hero quest novel than anything else, and as such it steams along nicely. Because Melanie always get some form of help right when she needs it, we’re never really worried for her safety. She is a sympathetic character and her growth and ability to face her fears gives her some depth, possibly enough to be relatable to her intended audience. The prose is likewise straightforward, almost plain, and sometimes a little to wordy and repetitive. But the story clips along at a fast enough pace that casual readers probably won’t care too much.
Unfortunately, what interested me most about this novel was not its characters, but its world, which was only barely sketched in. What we do get is quite vivid; Goto’s world building is good, if only briefly done. Goodreads has a #1 listed after the title, so perhaps the author will return to it, or the two other Realms, in future installments. I’m just not sure if I’ll be bothered to read them.