Thursday, September 10, 2009

Half World by Hiromi Goto

At a book launch party recently, I learned that some people always skip reading prologues and introductions and go straight into Chapter 1. If you are one of those people, please try to change your habits... for this book at least.

In the prologue we learn about the nature of three realms of existence: The Realm of Flesh, the Realm of Spirit and Half World. In the introduction, we meet a young couple, soon to have a baby, fleeing from evil Mr. Glueskin in the Half World. Chapter 1 opens with Melanie Tamaki at 14; she is the child born of the fleeing couple.

Like When You Reach Me, this novel is hard to categorize. The copy I read has a blurb from Neil Gaiman on the cover: "Half World is a haunting combination of a coming-of-age novel and a spiritual quest, a mad funhouse of horrors and a tale of redemption and love. Wonderfully odd, and quite unforgettable." How wonderful for Goto to have Gaiman's words on the dust jacket! His fans (Grade 6 and up) will probably enjoy her book. Another readalike that comes to mind is Clive Barker's Abarat. Ambitious readers intrigued by the metaphysical aspects of Half Life might like to tackle Physics of the Soul: The Quantum Book of Living, Dying, Reincarnation and Immortality by Amit Goswami.

Kudos to Goto for having invented the monstrous, mentally unstable Mr. Glueskin. I'll take you back to the introduction and the setting of the scene for Half World: Putrid fumes rise from Mr. Glueskin, who whispers, 'I'm so hot I'm melting!' "The inside of his mouth dripped downward, gooey and soft, threatening to spill from his thin lips. He sucked the gluey whiteness inward with a squelching slurp." Later, "He yawned dramatically. Body temperature cooling, the inside of his mouth no longer sagged like melting cheese."

That last line echoed a passage in When You Reach Me, which I had read earlier on the same day. Miranda tells the reader about her Mysteries of Science poster project, Why Do We Yawn? "My own theory, which I included on my poster, is that yawning is a semipolite way of telling someone that they're boring everyone to death. Either that or it's a slow-motion sneeze." Later on, in one of the mysterious notes Miranda receives, there is a P.S.: "Yawns do serve a purpose. They cool the brain by bringing air high into the nasal passage, which has the effect of increasing alertness."

Both of these novels will keep readers alert... and turning pages.

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