Book: Hiromi, Goto. Half World. New York, New York: Penguin Group, 2009.
Audience: High School 14-18
Hiromi Goto has created a world separated into three stages: Realm of the flesh (what we know as life today), Half World (in between the world of flesh and the spirit), and the Spirit Realm (where those go after settling their wrong doings in the Half World). We are introduced to Melanie who we soon find to be the only child who was born from the Half World and escaped with her mother to the Realm of the flesh. Melanie is a quiet, lonely girl who lives in a shanty home with not much to look forward to. Melanie soon finds that her mother is missing and she must go to the Half World to find her. Melanie finds the Half World to be a crazy place full of unexpected situations. She meets Mr. Glueskin who is “King” of the Half World. Melanie goes through a series of events and world in the pursuit of her mother.
One of the most prominent themes in this novel is life and death. It brings the reader to the awareness that death from the physical body may not be the end. It allows other options to be thought of and considered. Melanie goes from the Realm of the flesh to the awful Half World where everyone is forced to relive their worst moments. This has the same concept as asking forgiveness and then being judged by God as to whether you may or may not enter into Heaven. This book offers a different perspective on life and death and calls for some sort of soul searching to find what is to be believed.
Coming of age is another theme focused on in this novel. Melanie is faced with many obstacles and she is forced to find ways to overcome them. She was never given the support and love that most young adults receive to help them thrive and find their own way in life. Although Melanie does not have a great support system she does find a way to leave her dim life behind and overcome the odds to a victorious ending. She turns her life around from being the young quiet girl who was picked on to the protagonist that really paves her own way throughout the novel.
Fantasy genre is at an all time high in popularity. Having a fantasy book as assigned reading in class can offer a way to connect to those students who truly enjoy fantasy. It is important that teachers recognize its popularity and bring that to the classroom. Fantasy novels normally taught in schools are Western and although they are fantasy still exist in the world as we know it. The Half World allows students to see where complete freedom and creativity can take an author. Sometimes stories do not always have to be about the characters but rather about the world the characters live in. This raises the questions: Why are other stories focused on the characters? What effect does focusing on the setting instead of characters achieve? Half World takes creativity to a new high; so many factors are literally “out of this world,” this book shows that things do not always have to be realistic to make a point and show a lesson. Situations can be shown through many different angles and Half World shows the reader a very fantastic made up world while exploring the traditions of Japanese history/legends.
At first, I was excited to read a book that was based on three imaginary worlds. After beginning the book I soon realized that this story was set in a completely imaginary world. This type of setting requires an open mind and willingness to put aside pre-conceived ideas of “our world,” and be open and willing to be consumed and surrounded by this new and unknown world. When Goto introduced us to Melanie, I feel that is about all we ever learn about her character. She is simply used as a tool by Goto so the reader can explore her newly created world. The author chose to spend time creating and fully detailing the surroundings instead of developing Melanie. After completing the book, I could then see the focus of Goto more clearly; however, it left me asking myself a lot of questions. Who was Melanie? I never got to understand her, thus never could reason with her choices. She was given help throughout the novel and it appears that she never learns a valuable lesson or takes away something to help her in life. I would have liked to have more closure with this novel. Too many questions were left unanswered that I never got to know before I could recommend this as a great example of the fantasy genre.
This novel was marker with mixed reviews. Some critics praised Goto for her creativity, while others felt it was too far fetched. The common critic was the lack of development of Melanie as a character.