3 Things About This Book : Focuses on Mental Health and Emotional Wellbeing | Tender, Understanding and Human | Elements of Fantasy and Magical Realism |
Lonely Castle in the Mirror by Mizuki Tsujimura
Published: 2021 by Doubleday
Genre(s): Asian Literature, Fantasy, Magical Realism
Tender, understanding and emotional, Lonely Castle in the Mirror is a book that focuses on the mental health and emotional wellbeing of, along with the friendship among seven junior high students. It is set in contemporary Japan, though it largely takes place in the titular magical castle in the mirror realm where the Wolf Queen has brought the seven, giving them almost a year to find a key which will grant the finder one wish.
That said, it’s expected that the story moves at a slow pace. It’s a character-driven book and that may get boring for some, but for me, the characters more than made up for it. Every one of them has their own circumstances, hopes and personality, but the way they’re written—the kind way Kokoro (as the story is largely told in her 3rd person, limited perspective) views them, even when she’s being judgmental, makes it hard to dislike any of them. Combined with how we get to read their journey as they come out of their shells, befriend each other and overcome hurdles, it’s impossible to see them as just characters. They’re so human; I can’t help but feel strongly for them.
Moreover, it’s like they’re me and I’m them, and the similarities + tenderness makes me tear up. If you have anxiety, depression, been abandoned or neglected, frozen out by people you were once close to. If you’ve been bullied, sexually harassed, targeted by those in a position of greater power/authority than you. If you have ever been deemed an ‘outlier’ and/or felt like no one else understands you…this book will resonate. And even if you’ve not, this book will touch your heart. The adults turning a blind eye and the cruelty displayed by young teenagers in this book may feel exaggerated, but it’s not. A quick Google search will yield results like a Japanese junior high school student’s nudes were forcefully taken and spread on social media by bullies. There’s also the news from a few years ago where a then-13/14-year-old Korean girl was brutally attacked—and was nearly killed—by 5 other students her age. So yeah, which it may seem like it’s too much, there are still seeds of truth reflecting reality.
The elements of fantasy, magical realism and fairy tales are my next favorite aspects of the book. Although there’s a rule where staying past a certain time will lead to those in the castle being gobbled up, the mirror realm is still a safe place for the students. This contrasts well with the real world where they’re constantly reminded of their traumas. Also, I love how time is both linear and not, and the way it’s used to convey the message that whether future or past, there will always be someone out there who understands you.
The revelations and twists near the end of the book are stunning. I like how we got to delve deeper into the other characters as Kokoro helped them. However, I must admit that the memories felt out of place since they appear during such a tense moment. Nevertheless, those memories are important and they revealed a lot too.
All in all, Lonely Castle in the Mirror is a must-read. It’s sad yet uplifting, but so, so, so worth every tear shed and every smile that appears.