For general information on this series: Book Girl entry
This review is for the first volume of Book Girl by Mizuki Nomura (with art by Miho Takeoka). The English edition was released by Yen Press in July 2010, and the remaining seven volumes of the series have since been officially localized.
Have you ever randomly picked up a novel from a shelf at the bookstore, and upon first glance of the cover, you immediately knew it was exactly the book you wanted to read? This was my experience with Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime, the book that made me a fan of light novels. The unusual title alone was enough to get me to buy it, but after reading over the blurb on the back cover, it was made entirely clear that this was going to be a very different kind of story–and precisely the type of story that would interest me personally.
The Book Girl series deals with a high school literature club, which has two members. One is a quiet boy named Konoha Inoue, the viewpoint character and main protagonist. He once wrote an award-winning novel under a pen name, but this led to a number of traumatizing experiences–enough to make him yearn deeply for a peaceful, unassuming life. The other member and leader of the club is Tohko Amano, the eponymous “book girl.” She absolutely loves literature, and can talk all day about every classical work both in and outside of Japan. But more alarmingly, she’s secretly a yokai–and the written word is literally what sustains her. She regularly gobbles up pages from books, but also gets Konoha to write improv stories for her as snacks.
It makes for a clever setup, but much more interesting is how it drives the plot of this first volume. When the book club puts up a mailbox inviting students for assistance in their love lives, a cheerful yet clumsy student named Chia Takeda asks Konoha to ghostwrite love letters for her in order to win the heart of a boy named Shuji. What begins as a rather amusing high school escapade however quickly turns quite serious, delving deeply into emotionally-charged subject matter. As the story develops, it turns out there may be some significant ties between Shuji and No Longer Human, a novel written in 1948 by Osamu Dazai. No Longer Human is a story that includes elements of emotional disconnect, facades, deep guilt, false identity, self-disdain, and suicide–and though it’s not necessary to read it to understand this volume of Book Girl, it’s a short and thought-provoking work well-worth reading for those who are interested.
The Book Girl series in general will hold a particular interest to those who love books as Tohko does–and especially to those who read classic literature. The plot of each volume is tied to a specific work in some way, and the characters are all shaped in some manner by what they read. There are a number of side characters involved in this story that are mainly there to be introduced–but suffice to say they are all fleshed out over the following installments. But for the first volume itself, there is certainly a depth to the lead characters (and to Konoha in particular) that I only find in the best of novels. And on top of this, the plot is well-paced and a number of significant plot twists that arise toward the end of the story still manage to impress me in later re-reads.
Nomura’s text is translated nicely with a polished flow, and Takeoka’s signature artwork give off a warm, dreamlike atmosphere that fits the story perfectly. If you are looking for a good character-driven drama weaved with a unique mystery-driven plot, Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime makes for an excellent starting point.
Cho’s Rating: Strongly Recommended