After her failed suicide attempt, Reiko’s parents send her to spend the summer in Tokyo. Reiko is angry and vengeful, and she’s hellbent on hurting the people she’s closest to, and it is their hope that she will learn to control her emotions there. During her stay, Reiko visits Kuramagi, a historic village. There, she finds that she is able to slip back in time and become Miyu, a girl with a spirit that is equally vengeful to Reiko’s own. When she uncovers the truth about the village and about Miyu, Reiko must find the strength to confront Miyu’s demons… and her own.
Plot? It’s a pretty straightforward affair, really, that plays out exactly as the summary describes. While many of the elements (being sent to another country, learning about the history of a village and the legends they hold, and the magic of being able to time travel) will be familiar to readers, what makes it unique is the specific character and legends that it revolves around. I found it to be pretty compelling, and packed with just the right amount of detail considering the brevity of the novel. (I also strongly feel like this would make for a really good anime film.)
Characters? Reiko is the most interesting character I’ve encountered in a while, and that’s even though she’s really hard to like. To quote my initial thoughts on Goodreads, “she’s angry and confused and hellbent on revenge for the stuff she’s gone through”. While it certainly makes her a force to be reckoned with, and a bit difficult to get to know, I always got the sense that there was a little more to her than met the eye – and I was right about that. The other characters (Miyu included) simply faded into the background, in my opinion. Though it would have been nice to have them fleshed out a teensy bit more, I didn’t mind overly much because of my strong fascination with Reiko.
Writing? I’ve read two previous novels from Smith (Sekret and Skandal, which are really good reads as well that focus on psychic teen Russian spies – yep, you read that right), and I can certainly say that her writing style is still pretty consistent in this novel. It was so easy to read, and I was swept up in the story from beginning to end. Smith doesn’t particularly embellish on details, but I didn’t really find that to be a bad thing since I could conjure up an idea of the setting and characters based on what few descriptions we are given.
Overall? I was definitely pleasantly surprised by this story! I was a little wary initially because Reiko is definitely unlikable throughout most of the story, and she’s really focused on revenge and anger and hurting other people. But I found that I couldn’t stop reading once I’d started, and that I couldn’t help being fascinated with this girl who was so completely the opposite of me in nearly every single way. It was definitely different from most Japanese-inspired tales I’ve read, and that too is something I liked.
What's your favorite anime?
There is really only one anime series that I’ve seen multiple times, and it still breaks my heart every single time – Fushigi Yuugi. I’m obsessed. I love the story, love the world, love the magic, love the characters, love the feels. And I would honestly watch it again from start to finish in a heartbeat, even though I know I’m in for a world of heartbreak when I do.
A Darkly Beating Heart by Lindsay Smith
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press | Publication Date: October 25, 2016
Source: ARC received from the publisher (Thanks!)