Executive Times






2008 Book Reviews


Real World by Natsuo Kirino




(Mildly Recommended)




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Natsuo Kirino’s novel, Real World, presents four Japanese teenage girls and their life and struggles as they are coming of age in a crowded suburb of Tokyo. A murder in the house next to one of the girls provides the bulk of the energy to propel the girls out of childhood and into a version of the real world. Here’s an excerpt, from the beginning of Chapter Two, “Yuzan,” pp. 38-9:

I can still picture Toshi's surprised look. She was in shock about the woman next door getting murdered, plus her bike and cell phone being stolen. I'm sure she never imagined I'd help out Worm that much. Well—I guess I'm pretty surprised myself.

Toshi acts all laid-back and careless, but she's built a Great Wall around her heart. It looks like you can get inside but it's not easy. That's 'cause she's much more fragile than other people. She's been hurt a lot in the past. But that's what I like about her. She's timid, but she manages to take care of herself. I think she's actually the toughest out of the four of us. So when I told her about what I'd done and she gave me this sort of what-are-you-talking-about look, I felt uneasy. Like because of this whole incident I've been expelled to some universe far away from the world Toshi lives in. It's not like I feel alienated from her or anything. It's more like from this point on, the two of us were going to walk down very dif­ferent paths.

With all these worries running through my head, I hurried down the dark road. The neighborhood was quiet. I was afraid there might be cops staking out Worm's house, but there were only a few office types coming from the station. The trees that hung over the road gave off a heavy dampness, like when rain has just let up. The ground was still midsummer hot, and I felt like my body was slicing through the wet air.

In earth sciences class we learned that only fifty percent of the sun's energy reaches the surface of the earth. Our teacher printed up two graphs on his computer to explain it to us. "This one's the breast of a young woman, this one, that of an old granny," he explained, a serious look on his face. The young woman graph was supposed to show how the heat energy accumulates a lot around the equator, while the old woman graph was flat and showed solar energy radiating away. How dumb can you get, I thought, but there were only five of us in the class so we all had to pretend it was funny. The teacher himself said that explaining things like that might constitute sexual harassment. Like I cared. What a loser.

He went on, saying, "At the equator the amount of heat absorbed is more than the heat radiated away, so it's a heat source. The polar regions are the opposite—they're cold sources." A cold source. The vague thought crossed my mind then that that's exactly what I'd been back then. By then I mean my mom's death and one other thing that happened. I was just radiating away heat, like the poles, and in my whole life I'd never be warm. That made me sad, and I got depressed.

Toshi, Terauchi, and Kirarin all have both parents and pretty affluent families, and I doubt whether they have the kind of wor­ries I have. After my mother died I was left with my pain-in-the­-butt dad, and grandparents who worry over everything. I doubt they have any idea how I really feel.

Sometimes my friends will start to say something about their mothers, then notice my expression and get all flustered. Before this happens, though, I try to say something, something stupid like my teacher said. Or even dumber. Or else fill in the gap by asking something about their mothers, like, "Hey, Kirarin, is your mom coming to the school festival or what?" Is there any other high school student who has to be walking on ice like this all the time? What a joke.


Kirino’s writing in Real World is as tight throughout the novel as it is in this excerpt. If you’re looking for another take on adolescence, or have an interest in Japan, you are likely to enjoy Real World. For me, it was a little too adolescent and a little too noir to bring much reading pleasure. I did enjoy visiting a whole other world. Consider taking this trip.


Steve Hopkins, September 20, 2008



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The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the October 2008 issue of Executive Times


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