Book Review: Heaven by Mieko Kawakami

Heaven: A Novel: Kawakami, Mieko, Bett, Sam, Boyd, David: 9781609456214:  Amazon.com: Books

Title: Heaven

Author: Mieko Kawakami

Genre: Literary Fiction

Number of Pages: 161

Rating: B-

Recommended?: Yes

Eyes is a shy, socially awkward 14-year-old boy who’s nickname comes from his lazy eye, which he’s relentlessly bullied for. The other boys in his grade torture and humiliate him but he never fights back, constantly falling into the role of victim. One day he finds a note in his desk that anonymously suggests that the two of them should be friends, and he ends up forming a intense bond with a girl named Kojima.

Kojima is also bullied (in her case, it’s because she has bad hygiene and smells bad) and Eyes and Kojima end up being the only good things in each other’s lives and a brief escape from their horrific circumstances. Heaven is really sad and disturbing, and the title seems ironic among all the terrible things that happen to protagonists. It also felt over-the-top at times and I felt that particularly towards the end it veers into melodrama.

This is a world where teachers and other authority figures don’t seem to exist and adult intervention doesn’t occur until the very last minute. Even though Eyes’ mom seems like a loving parent, he and Kojima seem utterly alone in the world. I liked Eyes’ and Kojima’s characters, even though Kojima starts to wear on me with her passionate commitment to martyrdom. Eyes’ character was particularly compelling and you could feel his struggles like a continual itch under your skin. I wished for the best for these characters even though any kind of lasting happiness seemed unattainable.

I wished they’d find a way to fight back, there’s no glory in lying back and continuing to be a victim. The ending was bittersweet and sad but I was definitely left with some major unanswered questions. There were some plot threads that seemed like they needed to be resolved and I didn’t understand why the author decided to disregard them the way she did. This was a quick read but it felt a lot longer because of the intense and disturbing subject matter. That doesn’t make it a bad book but I will say I felt relieved (and thoroughly emotionally drained) when it was over.

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