University sophomore Miwako Sumida commits suicide, leaving those closest to her reeling. In the months before her suicide, she was hiding away in a remote mountainside village, but what, or whom, was she running from?
This haunting tale of grief and tragedy by the author of Rainbirds might appeal to new adults who remember John Green’s Looking for Alaska. The leisurely narrative uncovers a world of Japanese customs, ghosts, and grief.
... a haunting story of friendship in young adulthood and how—even before social media—people are not often as they appear ... both engaging and somber ... Goenawan, who has settled in Singapore, evidently understands Japanese culture and places well enough to populate her novel with a cast solely of Japanese characters...Apart from getting to the heart of Japanese teens and young adults, Goenawan’s descriptive passages display her knowledge of the Japanese countryside. It’s hard to overemphasize how unusual this still is: when Asians write in English about 'somewhere else', it is usually one of the main diasporic destinations: America, Britain, or Australia.
... struggles with awkward writing, unflattering structure, and strange tonal decisions, that even the more interesting characters from the cast can’t bring to a more coherent whole ... Goenawan moves fast, building suspense and laying the foundation for intrigue while adeptly intermixing different voices. So it’s a shame to see that dropped as the novel moves into the different sections ... While each section intermixed the character’s memories and current thoughts, I longed for the skill shown weaving Ryusei and Miwako’s voices in the opening. Instead, the novel’s construction feels like an inflated form of the outline, rather than the most elegant communication of the story ... Goenawan is not shy about dropping what doesn’t contribute, but the result feels less like cutting the fat so much as letting the plot drive ... The writing is awkward across the board. I kept re-reading descriptions, trying to understand the blocking. Even the dialogue between characters is tense, often trading subtext for text. At its best, it slips beneath the surface, nuanced enough to go unnoticed. At worst, it’s jarring enough to pull me away from the page. Beyond the writing, I found myself thinking the characters were acting, well, out of character ... There’s a few strange ideas about serious topics like suicide, rape, which could be cultural differences, but felt a little antiquated in 2020 ... Let’s call it a sophomore slump.