Mizuki Nomura – Yen Press – 2011 – 16 volumes
this is a novel

I’ve really been getting into these light novels lately. I hope that Yen’s been doing okay with them, I know they’re notoriously hard to market. Hopefully they’ve been finding their way into the right hands.

I liked the first novel in this series well enough, but not enough to rush out and buy the second novel. I thought I’d give it another try, though, just to see if the second volume grabbed me any harder.

I still like the basic set-up: Tohko, the book girl, consumes books instead of food, the stories provide the sorts of rich flavors that food does not. The narrator is the only other member of the literature club, a boy named Konoha. Konoha wrote a best-selling novel when he was in junior high, but the experience was so emotionally scarring that he vows never to write another novel. Konoha and Tohko solve mysteries as the literature club. It’s a cute set-up.

Unfortunately, it’s the mysteries I tend to have trouble with. This time around, Tohko fears a ghost is putting notes in the Book Club’s “problems” box, and a stake-out one night reveals a very mysterious girl in an old-style school uniform is the culprit. But the problem is, this girl swears she’s dead. Except she also attends the school as an emaciated upperclassman. The story goes in many different directions… that the girl is abused by her uncle, that the girl has multiple personality disorder, and that the girl is possessed by the spirit of her dead mother. It’s not until the final pages that the whole thing becomes clear, and it’s Wuthering Heights that puts everything in perspective this time, the way No Longer Human did last time.

I admit, I love the way that the mysteries follow the structure of famous works of literature, and yet that doesn’t give anything away about the mysteries presented in Book Girl.

The problem for me is that… hmm. Part of it is that the tone is a little mixed. On one hand, the scenes involving Konoha at school with Tohko and other classmates are just like a regular shounen rom-com. There’s some humor, and he interacts with everyone just as normal. But then the mysteries are usually unbearably dark tragedies, and it’s hard for me to reconcile the two, even if it’s not Konoha and Tohko that are directly involved in the tragedies.

The other problem is that the tragedy seems a little forced. I was disappointed when I got to the end of this book. I give the writing a lot of credit. For some reason, I accepted the fact that this emaciated girl lived with her uncle in an otherwise deserted mansion. It wasn’t easy to forgive it the fact that none of the characters seemed alarmed when it became obvious that her uncle abused and starved her, or made any sort of move to put her into protective custody. But the ending. The ending just went completely off the deep end. Her uncle’s true role. What he hoped to accomplish. What the girl wanted from her uncle. The convenient way her father and aunt died. The convoluted lengths it went to in order to stick close to the structure of Wuthering Heights. The fact that all of it was spelled out in the end, and almost impossible to pick up on throughout the course of the novel.

I really liked this book, and I thought it was better than that.

One other problem I had was that the parts with Konoha were the most interesting for me, but he’s a minor character in his own story. He plays almost no role save that of observer. The way he keeps stepping into this stuff also becomes increasingly unlikely.

Having said that, I liked it. I thought it was an interesting book. Again though, it didn’t grab me, but I’ll probably keep reading other books in the series. They do have an interesting structure, and most of the annoyances are minor, despite my complaints.

I’m hoping that the next volume will bring something a little different, or maybe more about Tohko and Konoha. I do like that a little bit more about each is revealed in every novel, though.

And after that, I will leave you with a true story: In case you are unfamiliar, one of the main characters in this series is a girl who can’t taste regular food, but eats books instead, saying that each story has its own rich flavor. So, I work at a used bookstore. The day after I started this novel, I was at work and fighting off a migraine. I started thinking about the plot of this series, and the thought of eating the books that our customers bring in repulsed me so much that I finally threw up and just went home.

Moral: Don’t let your cats pee on your books, then make me touch them.

And there’s your TMI for the day.

Mizuki Nomura – Yen Press – 2010 – 15 volumes
this is a novel

I’m always reluctant to start another novel series… but the ones that get licensed in the US are always so well-chosen that it’s hard to pass them up. Plus, the title of this was “Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime,” which is pretty much a guaranteed buy from me. What can I say?

It’s a mystery (another favorite of mine), but it takes some time to pick up as the main characters are introduced. We meet Konoha and Tohko, the two sole members of the book club at their school. Konoha is a child prodigy, a winner of a young novel-writing contest whose subsequent novel was best-seller material. The pressure got to him, and today he lives in obscurity, burned out and jaded from the ordeal. Tohko is a book girl. She eats books, vividly describing the tastes of classics as she chows down on the pages. She’s also Konoha’s sempai, and bullied him into the book club so that he would write “delicious” stories for her to consume. She isn’t aware of his past, but he’s the only one at the school that knows she consumes the written word.

The plot of the novel kicks off when Tohko agrees to help an underclassman girl named Chia write love letters to a member of the archery club she admires. Chia doesn’t have the confidence to write her own letters, so Tohko forces Konoha to do it for Chia. One letter turns into a daily chore when Chia swears that the boy, named Shuji, really likes the letters she gives him. Konoha contents himself with the fact he seems to be making Chia very happy… until he learns that there may not be a Shuji. And that he looks just like a student who died at the school ten years ago. And when he tries to investigate both, he only comes up with blanks.

This was a bizarre book in many ways, but I think its strongest point is that it would fit on the shelf right alongside any other young adult literature. I’m a big fan of giving light novels a cover to make them more comfortable outside the manga section of the bookstore, and this fits the bill while keeping the same cover art as the original (I’m definitely not against changing it, for instance, it works great for the Haruhi Suzumiya novels). Also, the content of Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime is mostly just a straight-up mystery. While YA literature covers a large number of genres, many of the light novels I’ve read have very manga-centric plots, whereas this has a more general feel to it. Good news for me, a bookstore employee, trying to put this into the hands of the masses (although I work at a used bookstore, so me putting it into the hands of the masses has little impact on Yen Press’s success outside word of mouth).

I also love the plot progression. It has a dark prologue and some hints in a bold typeface and diary-style format that indicate a murder may have been committed, but the actual story starts off with a peaceful scene in the book club. It continues in this vein as Konoha writes the love letters for the blissful Chie. And then things go wrong, first when Chie runs crying through the rain, then when all the niceness just caves on on Konoha and the book turns into a full-blown mystery, complete with a conclusion where a character threatens suicide. It’s great stuff, and it was hard to put down once the darker elements really got going. And I loved how it saved the explanation for the diary-like darkness to the very end. I was misled the whole time.

It was a quick, easy, enjoyable, and genuinely good read. And it left enough mysteries surrounding the main characters that I’m really looking forward to picking up the second book. It’ll probably be another mystery, but I do so love Konoha and Tohko, and they’ll be there, too.