Do you remember Monty Python's famous quotation, "And now for something completely different . . ."?
That's how I feel about Hiromi Goto's two YA fantasies: completely different from anything else out there.
Have you ever seen Hieronymus Bosch's famous painting The Garden of Earthly Delights? I'm fairly certain that some of the inspiration for Half World comes from this bizarre painting (these are just two small sections of the whole thing):
If all that gorgeous and weird art hasn't piqued your interest enough, Goto has created a fantasy world built on Eastern philosophy, not Judeo-Christian Good vs Evil. It has a very different feel. Disconcerting, sometimes, if you're not used to it, but interesting.
Of the two books, Half World has the more conventional plot: Melanie's mother goes missing and Melanie has to travel to the alternate realm of Half World in order to get her back. There is the creepiest villain you've ever met and Melanie has to defeat him. Or does she? The ending is quite unexpected and makes you rethink all the other stories you've read that had typical Good Guy Wins endings. (Don't worry, I'm not spoiling it for you. You still have no idea what happens!)
Darkest Light was harder for me to read. Gee is the most fascinating protagonist I've ever encountered, and his development was compelling to follow. (Anything I tell you about him would be spoilery, so I shall say no more!)(Don't read any Goodread reviews either, at least not until you've read Half World!) His story delves more deeply into Half World, which is an uncomfortable place for a Judeo-Christian reader to be: this is not an after life in which the good are rewarded and the wicked punished. Innocent people have to suffer in Half World until the trauma of their life is worked through. As much as I enjoyed the creepy, imaginative ways Goto represents suffering souls, I did not want them to have to suffer! So I had a hard time wrapping my head around some of the things that happened. But it was thought-provoking and very cool.
Maybe the most unusual thing about these two books is that there are only two of them: they aren't the first two books of a trilogy. How original!
The best comparison for the Half World books is the mango roll at our local sushi place: raw pacific salmon and albacore tuna wrapped up with mango. Raw fish takes some getting used to if you've never had it before. But it's so delicious!
Disclaimer: I didn't know Hiromi Goto when I first read Half World, but I have since met her and worked with her, and she's a very nice, funny, intelligent, thoughtful person. So I'm not likely to say anything negative about her books! But if I didn't like them I wouldn't mention them here at all, so you can be reassured that this isn't false praise.
For more great Canadian reads, check out John Mutford's The Book Mine Set, with a monthly round-up of reviews of Canadian books. Also go here to vote on John's weekly book question: What has been the best small or big screen adaptation of a Canadian book?
(My vote is for Anne of Green Gables) :)