Review – Penguin Highway

ペンギン・ハイウェイ by Tomihiko Morimi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Penguin Highway

This is a coming of age novel, a story of children facing reality bending mystery, and lots of talk about boobs.

Akireta Aoyama is a young boy with an analytical mind and an obsession with breasts. Not exactly in a prurient way, but in the confused way of a young boy on the cusp of puberty who knows he’s interested, but not exactly why.

One day, his small Japanese town is set abuzz by the sudden appearance of penguins… And that is only the beginning of the weirdness.

I read this novel as a bit of exploration of Japanese SF, and I fear it did little to deepen my understanding of the first. This is a shallow, wide ranging look at all kinds of things: friendship, death, reality, love and so on. The topics can be heady, but they’re all destiny with by children, so nothing goes very far-topics are touched on, then left to wander as the children go about their adventures.

The climax mixes utter predictability (there is very heavy foreshadowing of a certain event) and utter nonsense in a vaguely unsatisfying way. The characters are memorable and enjoyable, though, and there is enough going on to keep interest going.

But in the end, this felt like a pretty rote “kids in small Japanese town have weird adventures and grow up a little” kind of story, complete with Summer festival yukatas and the bully who ends up helping the heroes when they need it.

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One Word Kill – Review

One Word Kill (Impossible Times, #1)

One Word Kill by Mark Lawrence

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One Word Kill by Mark Lawrence. Review copy from Netgalley.

A group of teen friends in 1986 united by their love of Dungeons & Dragons are pulled into a spiral of danger and adventure and growing pains. But in London, not Indiana. The comparisons to Stranger Things are inevitable, and perhaps even intentional, but although the heart of the story is often similar (misfit kids banding together to get through the pain of life, discover the joy of it, and also do crazy things together) it is altogether its own beast. It is, for one, a science fiction/time travel story, rather than a science fiction/cosmic horror story. Also, the adults are far less involved than in ST. But it still preserves that golden glow of love for a time, and an appreciation of the humanity of young people, that is the same.

The gentleness of this story, the warm heart it carries for its characters, is almost shocking coming from Lawrence’s previous stories–Jorg Ancrath was many things, but sensitive to the joy and pain of simple life he was not. And yet the characters in One Word Kill most certainly are. They are kids, and they act like it, but they are also filled with love for one another that often defies words, but drives their actions.

Nick, our protagonist, and his friend Mia tricking the emotionally closed off Simon into learning to dance so he could go to a party; the friends banding together to protect each other against a homicidal bully without a second thought; the acceptance of each other’s differences with natural grace. It’s a story of love.

There is, of course, pain here as well. The children (and they are children) lose things that can never be regained, and it is handled well.

The writing is fluid and natural, as well. Lawrence has always been a strong writer of dialog, but I was actually surprised at how earnest and real these characters feel. So many voices in his previous works were trapped by sarcastic insincerity I had almost come to expect it from the author, but this book alone proves me wrong. It’s a pleasant mistake to make.

One thing that perhaps I didn’t like as much is the kind of universalizing of D&D as a magical gift to all weirdos and misfits of the 80s. As one of those weirdos, I have to say D&D never offered me anything like the emotional panacea that is implied here. I much preferred the stories in books to the ones that people tried to make me be part of. But that’s a personal issue, and of course those who grew up with the monster manual in hand will likely feel differently.

But in summary, I enjoyed this book. I enjoyed watching the characters take their first fumbling steps out of childhood, I cringed at the pain they faced, and I am glad I got the chance to read Lawrence’s latest work.

Thank you to the publisher and the author for giving me the chance to review One Word Kill!

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