Freedom Read #107

(translated from Japanese by Sam Bett and David Boyd)

A fourteen year old boy is relentlessly bullied at school by the ‘popular’ guys – the handsome sporty ones – apparently all because he has a lazy eye. Home life is not great: his dad permanently absent, probably having an affair, his step-mum facing the prospect of divorce, is distracted, distant although trying to be helpful. Whereas school is simply misery. Until that is, he starts receiving mysterious and supportive notes from an anonymous correspondent.

The author of these it transpires, is a girl in his class, Kojima, who is similarly ridiculed, abused and ignored by her classmates. They form an unlikely but touching alliance…an almost love story develops.

The attacks on both continue. The descriptions are unflinching, but also tender as the pair try to understand and avoid the daily humiliations: the two of them try to come up with plans to escape from all what plays out around them, which includes a discussion about suicide. It is however, hard to see a future for a friendship founded on shared terror. There is a chilling scene which underlines the nihilism of the bullies, when the boy is waiting for treatment in hospital and runs into one of the gang, he asks why they behave like they do towards him: the answer is essentially, why not, no one stops us.

It is a short novel – 160 or so pages – but the writing is deft, economical and sharp. It is a really well told story: that is moving and leaves you with things that will bother you, resurfacing days later. Just like her other novel Breasts and Eggs, this gets under your skin and itches and itches.

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