Notable Characters: Kokoro, Masamune, Aki, Subaru, Rion, Ureshino, Fuga, Ms Kitajima, Kokoro’s mother, Mr Ida, Miori Sanada, Tojo-chan/Moe-chan
Synopsis: Kokoro has stopped going to her school and spends her days in her bedroom watching TV the whole day, with the curtains drawn. Something had happened that had led to her current situation. Then one day the mirror in her room starts glowing. Surprisingly, she is able to walk through the mirror and on the other side she finds another world— a world inside a castle. And there are other children of her own age who too have been summoned to that castle. The story is about Kokoro and the other children navigating through the world of the castle and also their own worlds. And the story is centered around bullying and friendship.
My thoughts: The synopsis cannot contain the essence of this story that was so carefully stretched throughout the book into something meaningful and deeply touching. When I started reading the book, I was a tad underwhelmed to think that this was just a plain story about these children and their having fun in this fantastical place, but the story held so much more depth, subtlety and nuance. It started out slow, with a meek pace it proceeded and presented the layers of a complicated situation in Kokoro’s life as well as in the life of the other significant characters.
Bullying was the central theme and the story revolved around it and took a dive into its complexities, yet it didn’t just adhere to a common storyline to pressurize the importance of it, instead it dragged in a lot of symbolism in the form of this ‘other world’, and brought with it a heap of surprises and twists. The surprises were gentle at first, very subtly impinged into the storyline and enough to retain one’s attention. But the latter half geared to offer some not-so-mild surprising twists and a stack of unexpected turns. I didn’t predict a lot of these things. I was astonished to stay afloat in a contradiction of feeling so beautifully baffled and getting the gist of the events at the same time. The events in the book had a wonderful progression and even though these had a literal meaning i.e these certainly took place for real— a significant amount of symbolism was nested over these. Even when the questions were answered and a majority of things explained, one could relay their doubts about the subversive meaning of these events— their hidden significance.
The events, the twists and turns, the subtly crafted significance of these, cannot be emphasized without the wonderful portrayal of these characters and their nuanced personalities, their ongoing contradictions and issues. When I started reading the book, along with my doubts for the overall story, I enforced my prejudices over these characters who so slowly but swiftly won my heart and made me care for each of them. Especially the children- all of them. They were all different. The clever portrayal of them ensured that each one was known for who they were, their voices significant, their differences noteworthy but beyond the differences they were seekers of connection and understanding. Barring all the differences they could all connect. These connections again had their nuances and complicacies. From the start itself things weren’t very straightforward between them. Yet there were moments of a deeper connect, subtly reinforced over time through a parley of care and understanding. There were moments, especially towards the end of the book that enforced a plethora of emotions and the friendships shined. Combined with the twists that heightened the complexity of the situations, these moments of care evoked a monumental effect of both joy and bittersweetness. In fact the ending can be termed as bittersweet. It was a happy one in many cases yet at the same time it held a bittersweetness. The way things tied up brought a good measure of closure yet held the possibility of speculations and predictions. There was a sense of dreaminess that catered to it that thawed the bittersweetness to a greater extent.
As I have marked in the beginning, the book did open paths for a few questions- not just questions related to the complicacies of the events but questions centered around the theme of bullying. What can be termed as bullying and to what extent a situation has to go for someone to give it the label ‘bullying’? The way people, adults in particular, get caught up in the criteria or superficial definitions of a thing and do not seem to go beyond these definitions and dig into the core of humans to truly understand them. Especially in the case of children who are naive enough and haven’t made their opinions and strongholds yet— this attitude of adults pose a problem at times.
But the book portrays adults who aren’t bound by any criteria and formal definitions and can truly see through the children’s cores. A word from them can shift their balance and they are willing to put themselves in other’s toes, thus fostering an ability to pull them up from an unshakable mess when the need arises. The book portrayed such characters beautifully and overall it portrayed every other character with an equal fervor and showed in a myriad of ways how much impact they had on one another, both subtly and explicitly.