Book: Hiromi Goto, Half World New York, New York: Penguin Group,2009
Audience: 7th-12th grade
Read Aloud: Where are my freaking presents?
Realm of Flesh, Half World and Realm of Spirit. Those are the three worlds that Melanie Tamaki, a fourteen year old girl must rejuvenate peace within. Melanie is an outcast who spends her days taking care of her dimmed spirited mother, being bullied and being less than ordinary at school or placing herself in desolate areas where crows reside. One day Melanie finds that her mother is missing and receives a phone call from her soon to be arch enemy Mr. Glueskin, who in turn challenges her to enter Half World to save her mother. Melanie calls upon her only friend Ms. Wei for help, who in turn gives Melanie a pendant that morphs into an animal named Jade Rat. Melanie finds herself pushing past all physical and mental limitations she has ever been bogged down by and enters Half World to save her mother and restore balance within the three realms that Mr. Glueskin spent millennia trying to destroy.
One very prevalent theme in this young adult novel is one of identity. Many of the characters in the novel struggle with understanding who they really are, or where they fit into the world (whichever one they are from). They struggle with their identity because they feel as if they have a piece of themselves that are missing or incomplete. For example, Ghao Zen Xi spent a significant part of her lifetime feeling half alive because part of her spirit was inside of Jade Rat, who was in the Realm of Flesh, and did not feel fully restored and “alive” until she was reunited with Jade Rat. Melanie has no idea who she is, most likely because her mother was never fully alive to explain to her who she is and where she comes from, so she lives an introverted life with very little self respect. However, throughout the course of the novel Melanie seems slowly discover her inner strength and who she really is capable of being.
Another theme in this book is Choices. The entire book, much like real life, rests upon the individual choices made by each character, much like a domino effect. One of the passages read in my read aloud (page 141 and 143) show how Melanie realizes that the choices she makes are the only thing she can control in a world/situation where everything is spinning wildly out of control. The very first and important choice made in this book is when Melanie’s mother decides to leave Half World in order to have Melanie. Melanie makes a choice to answer the phone, to find help and to enter Half World instead of cower and hope her mother will come back on her own. Even Mr. Glueskin eventually has to face the consequences of his choices.
Connections: I think that Half World, although a fantasy novel and wildly imaginative can be a great choice book for the classroom. Unlike fantasy novels such as the ever popular Harry Potter and Twilight series, Half World derives from Japanese mythology and focuses on themes that are very important to teenagers. This novel would be fun to teach in the classroom because it is so different from typical novels that it will give students the opportunity to imagine the different realms, have the opportunity to learn about the background mythology and can enjoy an all around fun read with lessons to be learned.
Reactions: At first I was not impressed with this book at all. It took quite some time for me to jump into the storyline and appreciate the author’s unique style; however that definitely changed after the first couple of chapters. Goto’s novel offers a piece that is almost very colloquial due to the mass amount of dialogue as well as the usage of onomatopoeia and fragmented sentences used to describe inner dialogue as well. I thought the plot was intriguing and I thought the imagery used was incredibly vibrant.
Posted be Elizabeth from Sammamish, WA
“This is a fairly interesting YA book about a girl who’s mother is captured by an evil creature from HalfWorld and what happens when she goes to rescue her mom. The story is rather simplistic, but it’s message that the choices we make could have large consequences is a good one.”
Another positive reader reaction was posted by Lizzy from Provo, UT
“This is a beautiful story of a girl that finds her courage by saving others. Set in both the real world and the half world, a limbo of sorts where souls must relive their final moments of pain over and over and over, Melanie sets off to save her mother with an unlikely companion, a confusing magic eight ball, and part of a prophecy that keeps changing. The scenery is beautiful and haunting, and the story is inspiring, as Melanie learns that the only things she can control are her own actions. It’s a valuable testament to the power of agency and well worth the time to read.”