An enthralling, exciting, fantastical, and very real BRAVE story

Title: Brave Story
Author
: Miyuki Miyabe
Genre
: Fantasy
Age: Older and wiser middle schoolers, Grades 7 and up

Summary and Review:

Wow.  I mean seriously WOW.  This book was a LOT to read.  In a good way.  But also in a deep way.  A dark way.  A profound way.  And a very REAL way.  This book is not for the light at heart.  It’s for students who want their books to represent their world, not sugar-coated, and probably (hopefully) much darker than the one they inhabit.  It’s the kind of book parents want to think their children aren’t ready for and the kind of book that those same children probably need to read.  I loved it, but I admit, I loved it even more in retrospect than while reading.  It is long; it is complex.

The dark moments are far outnumbered by lighter moments, but they are there and they are not likely to be forgotten.  The main character, Wataru, is a young boy whose parents are getting divorced and the boy is going through very real feelings of loss and guilt about that. Simultaneously, he discovers a portal to a fantasy world through which a friend of his–or rather a popular boy who he wishes was a friend–has also traveled.  That fantasy world imitates in many ways his favorite video game, a fact which at first irritated me because it seemed so fake, but which I came to love as a metaphor for him inventing this world as he goes, trying to make sense of the real world back home through challenges and parallels he discovers in this new, fascinating, and imaginative world.

The fantasy world is equipped with everything you want a fantasy world to have: great characters, interesting and very different towns, warring peoples, and complex politics.  Our young hero starts out with very little power or strength but begins to find his own.  The world is full of surprises, challenges, and certainly some scariness.  And somewhat intense parallels to Wataru’s situation at home.

The book certainly touches on deep subjects.  Wataru’s father is leaving his mother for another woman, and while he sees his father as the culprit in a very black and white way at the beginning of the book, he later learns that his father originally left this woman for his mother and starts to wonder what it all means. The conversations are real, something that kids will especially appreciate.  When he and his dad finally sit down to talk about the separation, his dad says “Convictions are important decisions, the kind you can’t go back on.” And Wataru thinks, but doesn’t say “So abandoning me and Mom was an important decision.”  But then he asks his father “So what are your convictions, Dad.  I mean, Mom is really sad, and Grandma’s furious, and all Uncle Lou does is hold his head in his hands and moan.  How can convictions be worth all that?”  In other words, Wataru asks what a lot of kids would want to ask.  The conversation goes further.  Wataru’s dad says that “You only live once/”  and that “If you think you’ve made a mistake, you have to fix what can be fixed.” But Wataru doesn’t know the whole history and doesn’t understand.  He thinks to himself “Dad’s life was a mistake.  So…what does that make me?”  He tries to ask these questions to his father, but just like in real life, they get stuck in a generation gap of understanding.

At one part of the book, his friend wakes him up when his mother has turned on the gas in their apartment in at attempt to kill both herself and him.  This is a parallel story to something that had already happened to this same friend.

I know some people will be turned away by the darker aspects of the book, and others by the unfamiliar cultural setting–the book was translated from the Japanese.  If your child is honestly too young to handle material like this, then that’s probably a good decision.  But most children can handle more than their parents think–and there are many children who would benefit greatly from reading a book like this.  Besides, I firmly believe that children, like anyone, will get out of a book what they are ready to get out of it, and very little more.

But you know that boy in school–there are many of them–who bury their heads in fantasy novels, rarely read a book less than 500 pages, invent complex games or stories of their own, and might even have parents who are divorced?  Please buy him this book.  And get it for a lot of other kids, too.

The book’s English edition won the American Library Association’s Batchelder Award in 2008.  The author, born and raised in Tokyo, worked first at law offices and has previously written crime novels, which gives this project some more context.

Possible conversations to have with your kids:

This is one to read alongside your child.  The darker aspects will have you wanting to engage in a conversation immediately and often–what do you think about this?  Isn’t it awful?  You’ll want to reassure your children that the world isn’t (always) like this, and likely your instinct will be to hope they don’t really relate.  But hold back.  Let them experience it for themselves.  Let them ask you questions.  Let them know you’ve read it, too, and you understand.  But let your kids guide you through this one.  Otherwise you take most of the magic away.

If you like, here are some possible questions to ask when they are done (although, please, put them in your own words, or you will be met with eye-rolling):

What was the importance of Mitsuru’s character?  Why do you think he was portrayed as someone more popular than Wataru, someone Wataru looks up to, but also someone experiencing many of the same things as Wataru?  Mitsuru seems to be a symbol of something.  What?

How does this family deal with divorce?  What have you noticed about any of your friends who are going through this?  Does this make you think about it any differently?

What does Wataru learn about himself?  How does he learn it?  How does the contrasting character of Mitsuru help illuminate what Wataru is learning?

How do you (or your friends) use fantasy to escape or explain your own reality?  (This could be a week-long conversation.)  Help your child understand that when they go online to play a game or social network (especially those kids who social network and try on different personalities, which is definitely the fad now), they are using fantasy worlds in almost the same way as Wataru, even if it’s much less obvious.  See if you can get them to tell you why they and their friends like to do that.  And then you may have solved the mystery of the online generation!

Good luck with that!

2 Comments to “An enthralling, exciting, fantastical, and very real BRAVE story”

  1. I LOVE this book. I’m so glad to see a review about it –and such a thoughtful/meaningful one at that.
    I posted about it on my blog a little while ago: http://dianasamazingbookadventures.blogspot.com/2011/10/ya-wednesday-brave-story.html and even made a little book trailer recently!

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