Book: Hiromi Goto, Half World New York, New York: Penguin Group,2009
Audience: 13 and Up
Read Aloud: Pick me! Pick me!
Summary: There are three Realms that are kept in balance throughout history: The Realm of Flesh, The Realm of Spirits and Half World. Something has caused people to be stuck, as it were, in their respective Realms until a certain prophesy can come true. That prophesy revolves around Melanie, a fourteen year old girl with little going for her and not much of anything call her own. Melanie returns home one day to find her mother missing, only to find out she has gone to Half World to be with Mr. Glueskin, a tyrannous creature living in the realm. Melanie embarks on a strange and heroic journey to Half World and back again to restore the balance between the Realms and comes across many obstacles that would hold her back.
Themes: One of the main themes throughout the novel is sacrifice. Many, if not all, of the characters make some sort of sacrifice; whether it is physical or emotional. Fumiko and Shinobu, Melanie’s parents, each sacrifice one (and in Fumiko’s case two) of their pinkies to gain passage between Half World and the Realm of Flesh. Melanie sacrifices her time, energy, mental and physical strength, and finally her relationship with her parents and her own safety to restore the balance between the Realms and allow the people who have been stuck in each Realm to move on to the next stage in their cycles.
Another main theme is the idea of life. Throughout the book, life is referred to in many different ways: the first of which is the idea of a person’s corporeal existence, as seen in the Realm of Flesh. However, once in Half World, the denizens of this Realm refer to Melanie’s “Life” as something much more significant than that of the Realm of Flesh. The life force of a person no longer exists in Half World. Similarly, Gao Zhen Xi places part of her life force inside the Jade Rat, so that it may be returned to her upon their reunion.
Connections: This book doesn’t really compare to any books I’ve read. I rarely read fantasy novels and this one was by far the most thorough and imaginative fantasy novel I’ve read. I think it’s a great example of the power that each person has, and that you don’t need to have any kind of “extraordinary talent” to be an extraordinary person. I think young adults can really connect to Melanie because of her apparent ordinariness; she’s not smart or beautiful or athletic, she’s just a regular girl who uses everyday knowledge to defeat her enemies. I think it’s important for young adults to have a heroine that isn’t some kind of superhero, but a regular teenage girl.
Reactions: I loved the book. I was quickly enveloped by the detailed and fantastic world Goto sets up in the book. I found myself cheering for Melanie as she froze Mr. Glueskin and praying for her when she was trying to make it back to the Realm of Flesh with the newborn Baby G in her arms. I really enjoyed the meticulous way Goto winds her characters together and describes every last detail of each world, particularly Half World.
Receptions: Scott, author of the Scooter Chronicles, says,
“Half World is more surreal then I expected. I like that, too. I usually have issues when things get too surreal. Goto’s touches were very good. It brought on an aura of wonder and weirdness. And her development of the “evil” force behind her mission, Mr. Glueskin, was quite good. He was pompous, a genius, a scatterbrain, and an absolute horror who didn’t look it all at the same time. The descriptions of him though at times were off-putting. (It didn’t help reading at lunch.) It was subtle at times, but turning if over in my brain made me feel uncomfortable at times.
Melanie’s character development seemed to me after finishing the book as rather bland. But looking back it had a healthy dose of realism attached. It comes away as a “coming-of-age” story, but there is still the base personality remaining. It took a couple of days but I see the skill in what appeared as something else at first.
Another plus was it’s speed. Some authors, even if marketed to the YA crowd, could have turned this into a 500 page door stopper (or worse yet, a trilogy!). Goto doesn’t take Melanie on endless rounding around and mini-adventures while trying to complete the main goal. It was refreshing.
The funny thing though is that even with the writing skill on display, the book just didn’t pop. Maybe it was too subtle for it’s own good. But that’s not to say that it wasn’t a great read. Just one that won’t make the great waves that others might, even if far less flawed.”
James Grainger, a reviewer for Quill & Quire, says,
“Declaring Hiromi Goto’s new novel at least 50 pages too short for its visionary plot and complex heroine may sound like a backhanded compliment, but the fact is that Half World does not do full justice to its own almost hallucinatory power.
Like a Hieronymous Bosch painting come to life, Half World throws readers into a violent struggle to restore cosmic balance between the Realm of Flesh, the Realm of Spirit, and the Half World. The first two will be familiar to readers with a passing knowledge of world religions – the Flesh Realm is the material world in which we live out our mortal lives, the Spirit Realm a blissful domain attained by souls that have escaped the karmic cycle of death and rebirth.
Borrowing from Buddhist, Christian, and other spiritual traditions, Goto creates a unique, purgatory-like place, Half World, where souls work off the karmic debts acquired in life before passing into pure spirit. When a cataclysm severs the three realms, the Half Worlders are locked into a perpetually repeating nightmare in which they relive their worst sins and traumas.
The novel begins centuries later, when a miraculously pregnant Half Worlder escapes into the Realm of Flesh and gives birth to Melanie, a human child who may have the power to restore balance to the realms. Teenage Melanie’s journey back into Half World reads like an extended absurdist nightmare, with Melanie battling the sinister Mr. Glueskin, a cunning but insane creature holding her mother hostage. The violence and cruelty of Half World may frighten some young readers, but those with a taste for dark fantasy (and gore) will be thrilled by Melanie’s confrontation with her own fears and Goto’s nightmarish creatures (some of which are depicted in occasional stark illustrations by Jillian Tamaki).
What’s missing is more of Melanie’s crucial “humble origins” story, the human years of poverty and humiliation leading to her heroic spiritual journey. Her dramatic confrontation with Mr. Glueskin could also have been further filled out without losing the reader’s interest. With a heroine and an alternative world this interesting, why not give the reader a little more?”