Melanie Tamaki is human—but her parents aren’t. They are from Half World, a Limbo between our world and the afterlife, and her father is still there. When her mother disappears, Melanie must follow her to Half World—and neither of them may return alive.
Hiromi’s first novel, Chorus of Mushrooms (1994), received the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book in the Caribbean and Canada region and was co-winner of the Canada-Japan Book Award. Her short stories and poetry have been widely published in literary journals and anthologies. Her second novel, The Kappa Child (2001), was a finalist for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Regional Book, and was awarded the James Tiptree Jr. Memorial Award. Her first children’s novel, The Water of Possibility, was also published that year. Hopeful Monsters, a collection of short stories, was released in 2004. Her YA/Crossover novel, Half World (2009), was long-listed for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and received the 2010 Sunburst Award and the Carl Brandon Society Parallax Award. Her long poem, co-written with David Bateman, came out in Fall 2009. Wait Until Late Afternoon is her first book-length poetry publication. Darkest Light, companion book to Half World, will be released in 2012 with Penguin Canada.
Hiromi is an active member of the literary community, a writing instructor, editor and the mother of two children. She has served in numerous writer-in-residencies and is currently in BC, working on Darkest Light.
I almost gave up on this during the very flat (despite hideous monsters and grossness) prologue which explains the three worlds: Life (our world), Spirit (a heaven-like realm where souls are healed before being reborn), and the Half World, which is supposed to be like Purgatory but isn't because by some mischance the three worlds were completely separated so now those in the Half World are trapped in an endless cycle of experiencing their trauma over and over, forever. We open with a pair of young lovers attempting to escape this world and being caught by the revolting Mr Glueskin and his minions.
Luckily, this intro is short and the action quickly takes off. Melanie is a Bastian Bux sort of heroine: fat, plain, sullen, fond of books but no good at school, no friends, no special talents. But she does really love her mother, the feeble alcoholic Fumiko, and when she comes home to find Fumiko missing and receives a mysterious phone call telling her to come to the overpass and find the 4th door in the tunnel OR ELSE she doesn't hesitate. And soon she learns that more is at stake than just her mother's fate...
Melanie is a good protagonist. She is sympathetic even though she isn't particularly likable. She's kind of a bitch sometimes, whining and ungrateful. Poor Jade Rat... This book had more horror-y grossness than I was expecting, but it fit in with the Bosch-hell vision of the tortures of the damned. There are a few things that were frustratingly unexplained, especially but I liked the overall conception.
I would have liked more art like the cover, as well; despite being listed as "illustrated" there are only a few small black-and-white drawings.
12/23/12 EDIT: Somethin' went wrong with the coding of this review. Fixed it!
Review written on May 20, 2011 I was at the library when suddenly my cousin pulled out Half World and offered it to me, simply because of the artwork.
I know, I know, I shouldn't judge a book by its cover... but too late, I judged. Instantly, my thought: Oooh, this looks like a scene from Spirited Away (yes, I even made this picture):
Yup, close enough. Then I proceed to read the blurb; here's the concept:
Interesting Enough. Checked it out of the library. Went home and started right away. Day 1 (May 18, 2012)-Started Day 2 (May 19, 2012)-Continued; read with an empty stomach Day 3 (May 20, 2012)-Finished; read with an empty stomach; writing this review.
*I gained a habit of spending my Saturday and Sunday mornings reading without eating breakfast*
So... my overall reading experiences with this book have been very flat. Could it be my stomach affecting my mood while reading? I want to believe yes. But my head tells me... That's not all, yo
Allow me to summarize the basic plot: Melanie Takumi is a plumped teenage girl, who is constantly bullied for her differences. Her mother is ill. They live in poverty. For fourteen years of her life, she barely knows anything about her father. Then one day her mother disappears. A man named Mr. Glueskin threatens her with her mother, telling her to come to Half World. It turns out that her parents are from Half World. When Melanie's mother is pregnant with Melanie, she escapes to the Realm of Flesh (aka, human world; Earth). However, her mother owes Mr. Glueskin a bargain. Once Melanie turns fourteen, her mother is supposed to return to Half World with Melanie (obviously, her mother didn't do so). Thus, Melanie must enter Half World and save her mother.
The Three Realms somehow become disconnected from each other, so the balance (cycle) is broken. It's up to Melanie to alter the realms and connect them once more.
In Half World, things are in chaos because of the broken balance. People cannot relieve their suffers and cannot move onto the Realm of Spirit. They can never die and nothing can be born. Half Worlders have a curse of repeating their death (for example, if you died by jumping off a bridge, you will be repeatedly jumping off a bridge in the Half World)~creepy. Well, there are people that actually broke out of the curse and form a civilization in Half World. Mr. Glueskin's the boss B)
Oh and in order to pass into and out of Half World, you must offer your own pinkie finger by biting it off...engrossing!
Now, what a unique storyline we have here. Reminds me of Caroline, Spirited Away, and Alice in Wonderland ^u^
However, the book lacks depth... a big time. Melanie is the protagonist, but I have no freaking way in connecting with her thoughts! It drives me insane. In the beginning, it seems that she is a calm girl who truly loves her mother (that is why she wants to finish school and quickly gets a job to help her mother with the burden). But the next thing you know, she calls her mother pathetic once she gets frustrated (okay I understand that it is reasonable to think negatively of someone when you are frustrated, lost, stressed & etc., but Melanie is THAT flat. I cannot understand how her mind works). She is an impatient person and somewhat ungrateful... her actions often surprised me!!! Why? That's because her actions and thoughts do not fit the description of her, when compared to the ones at the beginning of the book (before she enters Half World)
....ohhhh, her thoughts. Gosh~okay, so she finds a wanted paper of her parents. It has the word "Half World" there... If you were Melanie, won't you wonder what "Half World" is? Melanie doesn't have the prior knowledge of it at all... yet you'll find her asking questions like: "Had her mother really felt this way? About her?...Why had her mother kept this (the paper)?" My reaction: *facepalming* Most of Melanie's reactions & thoughts seem out of place, to me.
The other characters are okay; not too much is explored with them.
So since the character development failed me..how about the plot development? The prologues are great! But the way the author builds the plot... is a fail. I find myself not engaged for the most parts. The events that occurred the Half World seems to have happened in, like, a day. so...yup, I find the pacing too fast. The plot has so so so so much potential!
The author's creativity is ah-mazing (speak of the creatures in Half World~grotesque!)... Half World can be described as:
A place of dark shadows, jumbled silhouettes of cities and jungles, forests and villages. The light that managed to penetrate the overwhelming layer of clouds created a shadowy world, absent of colors and vibrancy. It looked like early evening on a completely overcast today. The city portions of the vista looked odd. Castle turrets beside skyscrapers, pagodas and apartment blocks, tents and stone ruins, warehouse stores and freeways...It looked like every city and period in time were mashed together
again, so so so so much potential. also lacking rising actions though.
When I finished the book, this is me: that's it?...
Not much of an adventure to me... A very shallow read.
Açıkçası kapağı ve yazarın ana vatanı yüzünden uzun süredir merak ettiğim ama okumaya bir türlü fırsat bulamadığım eserlerdendi. Geçenlerde Haftanın Kitabı da seçilince dedim ben buna başlayayım artık.
Öncelikle o beklediğim özgünlüğü ve akıcılığı bulamadığımı belirtmem gerekiyor. Bilmiyorum, belki beklentilerimi bunca yıldır fazlaca yükseltmiş olabilirim ama klasik çocuk kahraman tiplemesi üzerine bir şey koyduğunu söyleyemem. Açıkçası Yarım Dünya’da geçen zaman ve ardında yaşananlar pek de heyecan verici gelmedi. Hatta bir ara kullanılan dil ve cümle yapısı yüzünden kapakta da yazısı bulunan Neil Gaiman’ın kitabı mı diye düşünmedim değil hani.
Akıcılığı bulamadım dediysem yanlış anlamayın sakın. Ben “beklentim” olan akıcılığı bulamadım. Yoksa kitap kendini her şekilde okutuyor. Kısa sürede bitiyor. Yine de bundan yıllar sonra içeriğini hatırlayacağım veya özgün bir kitap olarak addedeceğim bir şey yoktu içinde. Japonya’da doğan ama Kanada’da büyüyen yazar, bazı Japon mitlerini kitaba yedirmeye ve sanki çok önemli bir şeymiş gibi göstermeye çalışsa da, eminim bu yazdıkları Japon çocukları arasında bile o kadar ilginç gelecek şeyler değildir.
Allahım gömmeyeyim gömmeyeyim diyorum ve fakat gittikçe olumsuz yorum yapmaya devam ediyorum.
Neyse efendim, kısaca şöyle söyeyebilirim: Damadığınızda tatlı bir tat bırakan ve kısa sürede okunan, zamanınız varsa ve bu tarz çocuksu maceraları seviyorsanız alıp okuyabileceğiniz bir eser. Fazlası değil.
Let me just say this right off! This is a book where the main character is Japanese, written by a Japanese person! HOMYGOD! Do you not know how rare that is? Especially in the YA fantasy market. This is sorely lacking! In fact any PoC written by PoC is horribly absent. Publishers, FIX THIS!
Anyway, I was all excited and ramped up and then… Goodness. I was let down really hard and I thought things were gonna end with me in a wretched mess, despising and despairing the whole time after. The reason for this is that the writing (or maybe it’s the fault of the translation) was not to my style at all. It was very rough, direct, and very plain. It was hard to find the cadence and I sort of limped along through those first chapters.
I think it was somewhere around the halfway mark that things started to click with me and I began to really enjoy what I was reading. One of my favorite books is that the main character is obviously Japanese but her ethnicity is not made a point of, it’s never even discussed. She’s portrayed like an everyday person. There are no eye-rolls, cringes, or sighs of irritations about the way she is described or how her actions are so “Asian”.
Even though she’s kind of stubborn, bratty, and naïve, I absolutely love her resilience and her unyielding faith and love in her parents. She never gives up and manages to overcome her own grudges and fears throughout the course of the novel.
I absolutely LOVE the world building in here. Some of this stuff is so unique and original! I was just in amazement at the richness of it and the creativeness of it. Not to mention a lot of parts of this story was very dark. You wouldn’t have expected it from the premise and cover but there are some gnarly parts that make you stop for a moment and go, “what just happened?!” (ie: biting off one's own finger as a token of passage)
There is a lot of Buddhism influence on this novel, such as the aspect of reaching eternal peace and nirvana where someone may travel to a realm where everything is beautiful and dazzling. Also, that one must let go of worldly attachments in order to truly reach this state of being. It’s made quite clear from the opening page but this is not a very in your face novel. I like how she incorporated it into her fantasy worlds as well as the actions of her characters. It’s fun to see something written with my religion and having a positive slant on it as well.
Oh, let’s not forget the pictures alongside the story. They’re awesome! Totally lends itself to the creepy, dark atmosphere she’s in. While not mind-blowing like the kind you’d find in the Leviathan series, they still do a great job.
Melanie Tamaki is a lonely girl shunned by her peers: she loves books but she’s not very good at school, she has no special talents to speak of, she’s fat, and her single, alcoholic mother loves her but is neglectful at best. Her only friend is an eccentric old woman named Ms. Wei who runs a convenience store. She’s not exactly the kind of person you’d expect to be the heroine in a young adult fantasy novel. But, lo and behold, it is Melanie who is the star of Vancouver-based queer author Hiromi Goto’s Half World. And in addition to the unexpected protagonist, Half World has a lot of surprises for you.
Let’s back up a bit: Half World is set in Vancouver (with lovingly specific details of East Vancouver, by the way), where, one day, Melanie comes home from school and discovers that her mother is missing. As it turns out, her mother has not been taken somewhere unknown, but has been taken back to where she came from, a place called Half World. Melanie, of course, sets out to rescue her beloved mother on what turns into an epic quest that has significance not just for her small family, but for the entire universe....
Half World is the darkest Asian Fantasy novel I've read so far.
The landscapes are either literally shades of gray without any color or "unsafe" neighborhoods in rundown ghettos. In Half World there are mountains of bones, bridges of crows, and inhabitants lost in endless cycles of suffering.
The place descriptions are never long, but very detailed. You can tell that the author has a real picture in her head, of Melanie's poor apartment, her hiding places, the tunnel leading to the other world and of course, of the imaginary world in question. And everywhere you look, everything is dark and depressing. Not the gothic, cool kind of darkness, but a dirty and smelly, almost morbid one.
And not only the places are dark, but also the characters. The bad guy is called "Mr. Glueskin", and he is just as creepy and disgusting as his name.
While there is no direct gore or splatter, the book has its violent scenes. And bitten-off pinkies are the most harmless of those.
The illustrations made me think that Half World is a children's novel, but according to the author's homepage it is YA, which is certainly more fitting. Even for YA it is one of the darker and more violent ones.
At barely 220 pages Half World is a very short book, which I can usually read in one day. But the story takes some time to get going and the constant depressing atmosphere made me advance very slowly. There is very little (if any at all) humor to lighten things up, and some scenes are so sad (f.ex. the first appearance of Shinobu) that I couldn't just dash through the pages.
Half World is also an extremely creative work. Hiromi Goto has a wonderful imagination and creates impressive pictures in the reader's head. Props also go to the publisher for using a cover that depicts Melanie as the fat, asian girl she is described as in the book.
Yet, despite all these good things, Half World didn't manage to get me completely captivated by its story or its world.
Main character Melanie was so-so for me. She is often such a weak and whiny girl. Even though that makes sense given her experiences with an ill mother and bullies at school, it got annoying to read about her. Especially her tendency to "giggle nervously" when she panics got on my nerves after a while. Luckily, every time I got fed up with her passiveness, she starts kicking butt, showing a sudden boost of strength and innovation. For some this might feel at bit too abrupt, but it was just what I needed to keep me from disliking her. As a matter of fact, despite seeming like a weakling, Melanie usually gets out of dangerous situations on her own, maybe with a little advice and backup from her companion rat and crows, but still most of it is her own work.
The rest of the characters weren't explored all that much though, so the book is lacking a strong supporting cast, which can make up for a so-so heroine for me.
The other reasons that provoked a certain distance between me and the story were the above mentioned slow pacing (it takes 1/3 of the book for Melanie to get into Half World at all) and the darkness of the setting. Creative and refreshing as it is, it's not a world I enjoyed visiting. I guess it was a bit too depressing (and "stinky") for me.
All in all, as far as Asian Fantasy goes, I do preferotherworks. But if you've read these already and still want more, Half World is a good choice, because Goto knows what she's doing with Asian mythology and culture. In comparison to the above mentioned other books of the genre, Half World is also rather an Urban Fantasy than an Epic or High Fantasy story, which can be a nice change. And it is great for readers who like their fantasy settings gloomy, rotten and populated with bizarre, deformed creatures. There is also absolutely no romance in this story.
This book moves at a dead run. There are two prologues, one distant past and one recent past. The first is a pared-down legend-backstory, but the second is grab-reader-by-throat. Then the story proper begins, as Melanie's mother goes missing, and she gets a phone call (on a disconnected phone) from the deeply-creepy Mr. Glueskin telling her what she has to do if she ever wants to see her mother again. Because the reader has already encountered Mr. Glueskin in the second prologue, this is even creepier than Melanie knows. Melanie makes a believable young heroine, sometimes frustrated and overwhelmed, sometimes hasty and resentful, but always picking herself up and 'doing what's nearest'. She has no special powers, only determination and a loving heart--a refreshing change from the YA heroines who are billed as kickass tough girls but are passive and helpless when the crunch comes. (And hoorah, she is a chubby kid and does not become magically thin-and-pretty by the end of the story.) The horrors she faces in Half World aren't cheap blood-splatter special effects, but subtler and weirder. I thought there was an influence both of the Japanese ghost scrolls and of the Buddhist hells, and maybe also Stephen King's Overlook Hotel, which is to say, pretty damn creepy. So yeah, if you haven't read this book already, you should go and read it.
Dark Japanese-influenced fantasy is one of my favorite things. When I read that this book dealt with spiritual realms and had a chubby loner for a hero, it was elevated to a MUST READ RIGHT NOW on my list.
The "dark fantasy" part was satisfied beyond my expectations; the characters that Melanie meets in the Half World are truly grotesque and horrifying, and Mr. Glueskin's party trick freaked me the f out. Melanie's initial experiences of the Mirages Hotel are a sensory delight.
The reason I was unengaged for the majority of the book, however, was the lack of character development. There's a disappointing shortage of backstory about Melanie, which I found odd given that the jacket copy emphasizes her chubby lonerdom. The book is also written in a very anime style, with a lot of onomatopoeia and lots of exclamation points! In fact, the whole time I was reading my main thought was that I'd rather see this as an anime film drawn by the amazing Jillian Tamaki than read it as a book.
I was going to give it two stars, but the end was sweet and I enjoyed the secondary cast of animal characters so I bumped it up to a three.
was a little wordy at times but i really enjoyed this. especially the ending. if you want nightmares, read this right before bed. worked for me, ha ha. the novel had parts that reminded me of Pan's Labyrinth, Clive Barker novels, Neil Gaiman, and Miyazaki's Spirited Away. and the fact that it had a main character who was of color was nice, too. ;-)
I found this book tucked away in the value village book section and am so happy I picked it up. This was a really cool read :)
Hiromi Goto does a wonderful job at creating the realm of Half World in a way that felt so new and bold but still so beautifully reminiscent of the things that make coming of age tales unique. This reminded me so much of a Neil Gaiman novel with the unseen worlds and terrifying creatures, but mixed with the wonder and hope found in Studio Ghibli films like Spirited Away and Castle in the Sky. The writing style was rough and direct, almost choppy even, but that's one of the reasons why I enjoyed this so much. It fit perfectly with the characters and really helped convey the strong emotions of all the characters.
The characters!! my god. Mr Glueskin was so well-fleshed out. I could feel his manipulation and Joker-like intensity through the page. Terrifying!! Fantastic!!! The toxic ways he controlled his little posse of fearful Half World residents was so intriguing and I was endlessly entertained. Melanie herself felt a little bit boring at times but I could easily empathize with the terror she felt traveling to this ghastly world alone, with nothing but an obscure stone rat to give her hope.
A really solid 4.5/5 for me. I enjoyed this very much, even just as a standalone. I'm not sure when I'll be able to get the the second book, but I will one day!
It took me some time to get through this, and I'm glad I finally finished it. I didn't love it, I didn't really enjoy reading it - at least not in the usual way. I wasn't invested in the story and there was nothing I personally related to. I am glad I read this anyway because of the impressive writing. The writing isn't awesome, but it leaves a lot of impressions. All the detailed descriptions slowed the book down and made it hard to read at times (the things described are not pleasant), but they are also what made this book intriguing to me in the end. This book takes you on an absurd (but vivid!) journey into 'Half World' with all its monsters and horrors. Suffering and dread become very real when Mr Glueskin enters the room...
"Melanie stared down his maw. The moist acrid stink of vinegar burned her eyes, choking, vile and noxious. The skin inside his mouth, down his throat, gleamed white like larvae, threads of glue stringing downward like melting mozzarella... Mr. Glueskin unrolled his widened, flattened tongue, like it was a red carpet. When it was completely distended he wrapped the sticky tip lovingly and gently around Melanie's torso, pinning her arms to her sides. He squeezed ever so softly, like the most kindly embrace. Then began to gently pull her into his maw."
When I first read the plot description, I thought Half World sounded interesting and showed some promise, but within the first few pages, I already had a feeling I was going to be disappointed by the end... and I was right.
Told in third person, Half World is an Asian influenced fantasy novel. The realms are at stake- long ago the cycle between the Realm of Flesh, Half World, and the Realm of Spirit was severed, and now those in Half World (those who are dead but can't pass into spirit) are forever doomed to relive their worst moments in life. Melanie Tamaki, a lonely teenage girl, finds her mother kidnapped by the evil Mr. Glueskin and taken to Half World. It's going to be up to Melanie to not only rescue her mother, but to somehow find a way to bring balance to the realms.
Sounds interesting, right? Well, that's what I first thought, but I found that I could never get into the writing style. I felt disconnected and I was never really drawn into the story. I was rather bored for most of the novel until about midway through when things finally started to get a bit better.
I wasn't impressed by the end either. For a novel that has the realms at stake, I was expecting something more dramatic and the build up was already a let down. In the end, I think Melanie just got lucky- she was never really courageous, had too much help (she never really came up with her own ideas to solve a situation) and there was nothing about her that I thought I could label her as a 'heroine'.
On the other hand, one of the few positive things I can say about the novel is that there were some great nightmarish descriptions about the characters and Half World that really allowed you to bring an image to mind.
Still, I'm sure there are people who'll read and come to like Half World...
Melanie is seen as a chubby, slow witted, bookworm who lives in the poor section with her mother. One day she she comes home and finds her mother has disappeared. She gets a phone call from a man on the phone telling her to go through a door in a tunnel so she can save her mother who is being held by him. Her mother is in another Realm called Half World. With help from her friend Mrs. Wei she for through the door and into Half World. Melanie finds herself in a world devoid of colour trying to find her mother in the process.
Melanie encounters people with animal body such as a woman with eels for arms, and a man with a bird's head. Talk about not being in the Flesh World anymore! Her strength and tenacity to get back home was admirable and I quite liked her character. In the end she believes in herself. She reunited the realms without using evil means.
The illustrations sprinkled within the chapters are beautiful made the story more enjoyable. I love seeing some of the scenes brought to life. Any person reading Half World will love this quick simple fantasy and will want more! Luckily there's a sequel :)
The book drew me in right from the beginning. A clear goal, a little bit of adventure, and a need for the main character to prove to herself she is different and can overcome her problems. This felt similar fo the movie Spirited Away so if you ever have the chance, go check it out!
"There are never guarantees in Life. But for those who strive, who dream and believe, live with an open heart, and dare to love, it is aost certain that joy will come to you."—Gao Zhen Xi (205)
Hiromi Goto is one of my favorite authors. so it's no surprise that i love this book. Melanie's coming-of-age journey is one of the most touching i have read. everything falls into place for her - utilizing gifts and the kindness of others. but, as that's her fate, it didn't irk me. the mix of myth, fantasy, and reality is deftly done. the concept of Half World is brilliant. the main antagonist, Mr. Glueskin, seems purely evil. but by the end of the novel, we see things differently. i like when everything isn't black and white. and when everything doesn't go exactly as planned. while the concept of this novel seems similar to The Water of Possibility, it couldn't be more different. recommended.
Hiromi Goto might give Holly Black a run for her money in the category of gritty fantasy. That's the highest compliment I can pay this book, and it's no small matter. It was bizarre, cool, disturbing, fun, compelling, original, and featured a more-than-pleasantly-plump heroine. Yes! Goto's got guts to do that. I send her a virtual high-five.
The cover of this book is gorgeous. What can I say? It drew me in, compelling me to read it. I also happen to be a fan of fantasy and a teenager looking to enjoy young adult again. As my two star rating hints, it didn't spark the passion for YA I once had nor did it satisfy my craving for the genre.
Taking place in a universe composed of three realms - the Realm of Flesh, the Realm of Spirit, and Half World - this book is set up for a fantastical delight. But for me, despite the countless creatures and physical oddities, it fell flat. It had to do with the descriptions mostly which were brief (granted, at 230 double spaced, large print pages, the entire novel is brief as well) and the writing style. It just didn't work for me and never drew me in like the excellent cover had.
I hate grammatical errors unless they're used effectively and sparingly. Hiromi Goto peppered her novel with fragments which really got to me after a while. Fragments. So many of them. Anger.
It wasn't just that, however. The writing is simplistic, even for young adult. I also have a real aversion to the word "stink" in all its varieties, and I'm sure if I went back and counted the amount of times it's used, I would run out of fingers and toes before the end of the book. That's a personal preference issue if anything, but still, how many times can anyone take the same description over and over?
"Simple" seems to be a heavy theme for this novel, considering the writing style and the characters. Melanie Tamaki, our heroine, is a fourteen-year-old girl whose bullied, chubby, and poor. Her mother is sickly and thus can't work for too long without tiring out and leaving her job. Their situation is desperate, but we never get a real sense of this - again, partly because the novel is so brief. A true background of either character (or any character) is never given, only fleeting glimpses. I think Melanie is fairly interesting, and unique for the genre too, but I never connected with her.
Every character has the potential to be three dimensional, but they aren't developed enough to reach it. I know at one point, the narration questions how Mr. Glueskin, the principal villain, came to be evil. I was excited because I thought I would be getting an answer. The answer never came. His situation is revealed but his character is not. He remains comic, grotesque, and devoid of any personality trait besides evil.
This entire novel had potential, but like the characters, it lacks proper development. Still, it's unique and fresh for a genre riddled with paranormal romances making it somewhat worthwhile. I've read better and I've read worse. I wouldn't recommend it.
A friend of mine told me that Hiromi Goto was her favourite author. I should have probably asked her to specify which one was her favourite book, but I figured I couldn’t go wrong with her most-read book, Half World.
Unfortunately I really didn’t like this book. I thought the premise was interesting enough when I started. The main character Melanie is a 14 year old girl that grew up with a single mother and was bullied by her classmates for being Japanese and fat. One day her mom disappears and she finds out that her parents are actually from Half World which is one of the Three Realms, so she goes to Half World to find her.
The biggest issue for me was that this was just boring. It was trying really hard to be a fast-paced adventure and build tension, but I found I didn’t care about what was going to happen next. I’m clearly not the demographic for this book which I would say is aimed at elementary to middle school children. Most of the time I actually don’t mind and I can still enjoy a book aimed at younger audiences, but this was so clearly for children that there just wasn’t any deeper substance to it. I started skimming around half-way through and was still able to get the gist of what was going on without feeling like I was missing much.
Needless to say, I won’t read the second. I have her latest book, Shadow Life which is a graphic novel released this year that I have higher hopes for. Now I just have to figure out how to tell my friend I hated this...
I want to rate this higher. That’s what my gut is telling me, but I found the writing flat and I was confused by some of the unexplained logic. The main character annoyed me a bit, but she also left me proud in the end. I loved all the side characters.
I loved the story and thought it quite unique. This was unexpectedly weird, so much so that I found myself grossed out but loving every minute of it.
I also live in the same city this was set in and found it fun reading about some of the places I have been to in real life.
Reading this was an extraordinary experience. I can't remember the last time I finished a book in 24 hours. I would call it a mix between Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away and Clive Barker's Weaveworld. Like those two tales, Half World is a story about a human entering a fantastical world in order to find redemption, and also getting the bugaboos frightened out of them!
I loved the unexpected heroine in Half World; in many ways she is deficient in the very qualities we are taught to associate with heroism: strength, wisdom, agility, brilliance, conventional beauty - on the surface, she has none of these, and she often bemoans her lack of abilities as she tries to face the challenges in the story. But the young fourteen-year-old has more of these qualities than she realizes, and that is part of what makes this a great coming-of-age story for teen readers. She is achingly familiar to those parts of ourselves that feel we are nothing special. In the story, she learns to start trusting in her abilities, to appreciate her friendships, and to believe in herself and her passions, even when it seems futile.
I was particularly pleased that she doesn't make any obviously stupid decisions, which is my biggest pet peeve in tales of peril. It is hard to be sure what a stupid decision would be, of course, when the rules are so obviously askew, and the horrors of your worst dreams may be real. But she does the best she can with what information she has (often none), and when she has no plan, she admits she has no plan. It was strangely refreshing and reminded me of how put off I am by most story heroines - either they are too gifted or too annoying. That's not to say there weren't helpful magicks and deus ex machinas in this book - there were a few - but ultimately she is just a young mortal, struggling along like the rest of us, hoping to catch a break.
Not only was it refreshing to have an "unlikely hero" at the center of the story, but the diversity of the cast was a nice change from the typical YA fair. Hiromi Goto, the author, is a Japanese Canadian woman who wrote about tensions between intersecting cultures in her first novel, Chorus of Mushrooms. The main character's family in Half World is implied to be of Japanese descent, and an important person in her life is implied to be Chinese. Some of this loses context, since it is not clear on exactly what world this story is taking place, but there are some resonating cultural touches, like a special jade amulet, congee as a comfort food, and references to the yin-yang paradigm. In another contrast to the mainstream, nearly all of the main characters in this story are female. I almost forgot how unusual this is in fantasy books, even written by women, until I realized I had assumed a talking rock and a talking animal would be male - not!
While this can be a rewarding book for adults (I loved it), this is definitely oriented toward the teen reader - the protagonist is 14, and there is a noticeable lack of swearing in the book (the worst word the main villain uses is "freakin'"). However, it should be noted that this book is not for the squeamish. I compared it to Weaveworld for a reason - the images in this book are grotesque and sometimes violent, and although the language is "clean", in many cases I would have preferred a swear word in place of the vicious taunts that seemed to strike to the heart of things we all fear. If you are prone to nightmares, you might want to read this during the day, or skip it altogether. (Unless you are prone to nightmares and enjoy them!)
All in all, a truly amazing book, and one you will enjoy if you like the combination of heartfelt, sentimental coming-of-age story with an unlikely hero, and the disturbing, twisted sense of the macabre, where there is no black and white, just many, many shades of grey.
I've been meaning to read this since reading the author's Hopeful Monsters and seeing her at WisCon and I was rather pumped that the price dropped low enough on Amazon to snag myself a copy (I'm thinking it is out of print and the price varies a lot from week to week). But the book is a YA tale of a young girl, Melanie Tamaki, finding herself in the middle of a completely insane and messed up situation involving the three realms (the material world, the spirit world, and the half world) becoming fractured. The book is good. It's disturbing and dark and it knows how to set the scene and follow through on the promises it makes early on. Merlanie is a relatable kid who gets in over her head, gets frustrated, but ultimately shows the power of forgiveness and kindness in the face of cruelty.
The story begins with Melanie being the target of bullied for being overweight, for not being white, for being more comfortable with books than with people and yet not being especially suited to school. Quickly things start getting out of hand as her mother goes missing and a phantom phone call sets Melanie on the trail of getting to a magical realm she can't even imagine. The descriptions and just the visual style of Half World is strong, captivating, and rather creepy. The twisted creatures that make up the setting are striking and mirror the twisted nature of the place, where people relive their greatest pain until they are well enough to move on. Only now they can't and are stuck reliving their worst traumas over and over again. It is some messed up stuff and it just works rather well, because it complicates the idea of evil in such a place. Mr. Glueskin is indeed a monstrous antagonist, but the story does not make him inhuman. Instead it paints everything in Half World in shapes of muted gray (like it was on purpose or something), making the characters there less able to act morally because of their pain, makes their selfishness and vanity and fear much more understandable.
The supporting cast is rather charming as well, the story populated by small roles that still feel large. Jade Rat is great and I love how the people here are not solely "likable." The book takes pretty clear aim at the idea that a character must be likable to be deserving of compassion. Melanie herself can be rash and spiteful at times, but she seems kindness and, in the end, chooses compassion to guide her rather than malice, rather than hate. There's a great movement for her character, at first concerned only with escape, with herself, and then learning to see the hurt in others and also how to meet cruelty with a power of her own. A power that is stronger than the hate. It's a great message and the novel makes its points artfully and with a dark twist. Half World is haunting and beautiful, surreal but also sweet in many ways. It's a subtle work, and it defies there being easy answers, and in the end that's what I liked about it.
My complaints are few and mostly have to do with the ending. [SPOILERS?] Really, my biggest issue with the story was the way that a woman who didn't want children finds herself pleased to end up having them. Now, I understand the choice to some degree, because yes, yes, minds change, but I dislike the narrative that all women are secretly mothers in waiting and would have liked perhaps to see the character set up a little different, and this probably is more a personal issue with me than something that's wrong or anything [END SPOILERS]. The book is still very strong, the setting and the characters vibrant and weird and the plot crisp and effective. Yes, I say. More please. An 8.5/10.
"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." — Neil Gaiman
With an eye-catching cover, an intriguing title and not to mention a blurb from Neil Gaiman, how could I possibly ignore this book? It even piqued my husband's curiosity, which I took it as a good sign because he rarely took notice of what I'm reading (well, he's not a reader like the way we all are).
To begin with, Half World introduced the readers to the three worlds of Flesh, Spirit and the Half World whereby it allow living beings to undergo a specific cycle before they could go on to the next one (think of karma and incarnation). Through the prologue, readers get a glimpse of the division of the three realms and how it would affect our heroine, Melanie Tamaki, as her parents were involved and got sucked into a horrible pact a long time ago with a grotesque character who called himself Mr. Glueskin; one who behaved as if he was the ruler of Half World.
Though Melanie lives with her mother, she knew nothing about her father since young as her mother never shared bits of his life with her. Because her mother is weak, she stay bedridden most of the times and thus they lead their lives in poverty. And Melanie isn't too happy in school because she always got bullied. Her only refuge is at the elderly Mrs. Wei's house as she is the only person she could turn to whenever she is in need of advice or assistance.
The night when Melanie received a strange phone call from Mr. Glueskin, she knew she has to save her mother even if it means putting her life at risk. With the help of Mrs. Wei, Melanie began her quest after learning something about the prophecy and a jade rat pendant was given to her for safety.
I will not disclose too much of Melanie's quest and the world of Half World, but let's just say it is both a mysterious and a bizarre world filled with all kinds of grotesque characters. Melanie has to be alert and very careful with her disguise, because any wrong move would send her to Mr. Glueskin's way. In the midst of saving her mother, she also realise that the three realms need to regain their ongoing cycles and she has to do something to restore their worlds together again.
What can I say? I was totally sucked into this fantasy world Hiromi Goto had created, yet I was terrified of Half World because it is both a mysterious and a frightening world. Aside from those grotesque creatures, it is a world bereft of colour. Everything about Half World is gray and gloomy. The characterisations are great too, especially Mr. Glueskin.
And oh, I so loved Jillian Tamaki's illustrations (she's also the illustrator for Skim)! Not only they are beautiful but they also helped me to be able to visualise Hiromi Goto's characters and her world building so much better. I wish this story could be made into an animation because I know I would want to watch it.
Melanie doesn't have it easy she's chubby, making poor grades at school, she has no friends and her single mother is always exhausted and between jobs leaving them with little means for food and comfort.
One day after school Melanie's mother is missing and determined to find her, Melanie ventures through a portal to a place called Half World, a world of grotesque hybrid animal-human creatures lead by a villain called Mr Glueskin, where everything is gray, bleak and ghostly; and starfish creatures with the faces of angels interact with bird-beaked men and skeletal wrecks whose bones clatter with shaking laughter.
Melanie, armed with a rat jade amulet, a magic 8-ball, and an army of crows, must decipher a timeless riddle and avoid being eaten whole by Mr Glueskin, to unite Three Realms: the Realm of Flesh, the Realm of Spirit, and Half World, and save her mother and the rest of the World from falling into the murk of abysmal Purgatory.
An easy read, some scenes were graphically disgusting (or visceral); especially with the repeated biting off of pinky fingers and the subsequent blood gushing descriptions illustrating the masochistic crunch imperative for the cost of toll, the ripping of limbs, the pecking out of eyes, phlegm balls, farting babies, blood spilling from feet and faces, entrails eviscerated, it goes on and on.
But there's no doubt around the fact that Half World would make a great Fantasy Film with its Alice in Wonderland, but gorier, type whimsy.
A treat to titillate a darker place in the human imagination, the book's not for everyone, but there are more than enough interesting moments in Half World making it well worth the scant time it takes to read it.
Melanie Tamaki is 14 years old, on the "slow-learner" track in school, bullied by classmates, strangely loved by crows, and coping with a mother who is constantly sick and can't keep a job.
But do to the prologue wherein a pregnant woman escapes from Half-Life World, we know why her mother is sick all the time, and that Melanie is a prophesied child who might be able to heal the sundered links between our world, the half-life world where we should work out our earthly terrors, and the world of the spirits.
In order to save Melanie, her mother has made a pact with a ghastly man called Glueskin (who is gruesome and horrible and sick and strangely pitiable in a way I haven't encountered since I fell in love with Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere and the delicious villains Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar) and so when Melanie comes home one day to find her mother gone, she must risk everything to retrieve her mother from the terrifying Half-life world.
On the way a jade rat, a kindly archivist with a pronoun issue, and various others will help her. In the end, thought, it is the small, human choices she makes that will win out over the evil of Glueskin.
This book is more than your usual girl-on-a-quest, the Half world is truly disturbing, and Melanie herself is no shining heroine, but believable and cowardly sometimes.
Very satisfying story, if somewhat predictable.
Hiromi Goto is definitely a must-follow author, and her illustrator, Jillian Tamaki has a terrific non-speculative graphic novel about a young girl having her first lesbian experience.
This Book's Food Designation Rating: Tiramisu, for the layers of creamy characterization goodness interspersed with the sharp bitterness of the half-life world.
This is very dark, disturbing urban fantasy. And, to make me even happier, it's Canadian! It seems to be sort of set in a Toronto or Vancouver kind of a location, while it blends Japanese and Chinese mythologies into the Canadian metropolis setting. Not for the faint of heart; you have to be able to handle a fair bit of gorey darkness to enjoy this book. Melanie is inadequate, and that's what makes this book great. Half World is a novel of helping people who are not enough. Ms Wei helps Melanie when she is not brave enough to go alone to the door to Half World. Jade Rat bites off her own toe when Melanie cannot muster the strength to bite off her own finger. The crows help Melanie when she is not fast enough to cross them; they come back. She isn't smart enough to decipher the Eight-Ball, or to figure out what to do about Mr Glueskin without Gao Zhen Xi's guidance. That's what makes her an interesting protagonist. And in the end, she is enough to save all the souls of Half World. "She was not responsible for righting all the wrongs in the realms. She was responsible for the things she chose. That's all. She almost managed a tiny smile. It was simultaneously responsibility and almost nothing at all, she thought wonderingly. 'How remarkable' she whispered" (145). It is our decisions and actions that make us important and make an impact, not heroic, almighty power. Melanie can be inadequate, but because she is well-meaning, she makes changes happen through her desire to help. One of the first truly plain, ordinary protagonists that I've read in a book where they still end up being a 'hero.'