TITLE/AUTHOR: Heaven; Mieko Kawakami
YEAR PUBLISHED: 2021
GENRE: Fiction / Coming of Age/Bullying /Translated
FORMAT: eGalley LENGTH: 192 pp
SOURCE: Edelweiss download
ONE SENTENCE SUMMARY: An unsettling coming of age story about two outcasts who are victims of bullying.
BRIEF REVIEW: Our unnamed, fourteen year old male protagonist hasn't had it easy. He has been tormented by a group of bullies at school who refer to him as "Eye" because of his lazy eye. Subjected to punches, kicks, forced to eat chalk and even a goldfish and one attack even resulted in an emergency room visit. One day he finds a note in his desk which states, "we should be friends." Thinking it is a trick by the bullies, when the notes continue, he soon learns that they are from Kojima, a quiet girl who has also been shunned and bullied. She has been taunted and called "HazMat" because of the way she looks and dresses. The two outcasts begin to meet secretly outside of school and develop and unlikely friendship in which they commensurate over what each has endured.
Kojimi's story is almost secondary to the unnamed narrator's but, hers seems deeper and very philosophical. She has her reasons for keeping her slovenly appearance and seems to believes her suffering is in many ways holy. Her story is a sad one as well. I enjoyed the conversations between these two individuals and thought it provided a welcomed charge from the more upsetting aspects of the story.
Heaven is thought provoking novella. The heavy subject matter was an eye-opening account of trauma and the sometimes painful aspects of adolescence. The story also provided some insight from the perspective of one of the bullies as to why certain kids are targeted and why some bullies think it's okay to bully and that it's not personal. The characters, especially Kojimi, felt deep and complicated. I thought the ending felt jarring and its one that I am still thinking about. Definitely not a book for every reader but, I was happy I had this on my summer reading list. Translated from Japanese by David Boyd and Sam Bett and very well done.