Title: Half World, written by Hiromi Goto and Illustrations by Jillian Tamaki
Audience: Grades 10th – 12th
Summary: Melanie Tamaki is a larger fourteen year old girl who gets teased endlessly by her friends at school and is ignored by her single mother at home. However, Melanie wasn’t born of this world. Rather she was born in the Half World by her father, Shinobu, and her mother, Fumiko. Half World is one of three realms that exist in the universe- however, years ago a break in the natural cycle of the realms occurred and people weren’t allowed to travel from the Half World to the Spirit Realm, our equivalent of heaven. After being allowed to live in the current world for fourteen years, his mother is taken back to the Half World by the evil Mr. Glueskin. Melanie begins her quest of bringing her Mother back, aided by a variety of friends and companions, only to realize that she might be the answer to fix all three broken realms once and for all.
Read Allowed: http://youtu.be/ILf5UJ2mLuc
Themes: Independence-The book opens with Melanie being scared of her own shadow running from girls that are throwing rocks at her and teasing her endlessly. However, through the course of the book the absence of Fumiko forces Melanie to aggressively think on her own and choose her own fate. From venturing into a foreign land, to running from various deformed Half World creatures, to fighting Mr. Glueskin himself with a pale of ice, Melanie learns to exert her free will and utilizes her creativity to get her back home.
Shame: All throughout the Half World are people that have already died and are reliving the worst parts of their lives. It is this repeated self mutilation that seems to be also mirrored in Melanie in the first half of the book. She has no friends at all, she constantly desires to be like the other kids, and runs like a coward when her classmates tease her. Her appearance as a larger girl doesn’t help at all, especially when today’s society so cruelly demands physical perfection. Most of the book, although a physical quest, is actually an inward journey that Melanie takes to overcome the shame that she is plagued with in the beginning.
Chaos/Order– From the very beginning of the book when the three realms are disconnected, even to the very end- nothing is the way it should be. Melanie has never known her father and her mother is only physically there, not psychologically at all. She has no friends, has a fat body, and is scared of everything. The whole of Half World is crying out for redemption. Although we don’t get to actually see Half World restored, that certainly is the longing of all the characters in the book and, I felt like the audience wanted it as well- a return to reality.
Connections- The way fantasy is used in this book presents very literal situations that represent very emotional concepts. The bridge of ravens Melanie uses to enter the world, Mr. Glueskin having originally been a baby who had died in the womb- these are all great metaphors for things that happen in real life. Getting students to understand analogies and being able to create the analogies themselves is a important skill that students will need to have in life and this book has a great amount of examples to help provide illustrations for the kids to imitate.
Reaction- My personal reaction to the book was a divided one. As I was reading the book, I thought that the whole concept of Half World and its inhabitants were overblown and slightly disturbing. However, after reading the book, I realized that I really enjoyed the writing itself and word imagery. Goto is an excellent writer and utilizes her magnificent imagination to create a truly new world to lose ourselves in entirely. d
The website Strange Horizons says this about Half World- “In an era when 350 page YA novels are the norm, this brief, 225 page tale could easily have filled in some of this background material. Still, these are minor quibbles. Hiromi Goto’s Half World is a powerful and marvelous story, one likely to appeal to both mature teens and adult readers alike.”
The online blog “Librarian By Day” reviews Half World as well- “A seemingly simplistic story reveals great truths in this illustrated novel. Drawing upon concepts of Buddhism such as rebirth and the cycle of samsara, Half World illuminates these concepts for unfamiliar readers. But these lessons do not swamp the heart of the novel: Melanie’s love for her mother. Through the awful sights she sees, Melanie keeps her mind set on saving her mother. Yet standing in Melanie’s way is Mr. Glueskin, a vividly-described, creepily atmospheric creature. Other characters like Jade Rat, Ms. Wei and Gao Zhen Xi are equally memorable. At the end of the novel, not only has Melanie achieved an epic feat, but she has come of age as a young woman.”