Fairies, Vampires, and a Boy Who Kills His Mother

Tinkerbell  If Disney has taken the pulse of modern day culture correctly, then the new Tinkerbell movie is a gamble that little girls are still innocent enough to have fairy fantasies. Sure, I can believe that, the dear little things.

However, Stephenie Meyer has recently proved to the publishing industry that girls just slightly older have something a whole lot hotter and dirtier in mind – like the bloody teenage love of a vampire, with a little werewolf action thrown in.  Twilight The Twilight series – three brick-size, black volumes – is the current teenage rage sweeping through American junior high and high schools that some think will rival Harry Potter, a teen romance for girls of the classic bad boy variety, something any female reader can really tuck into with gasps and tears of identification.

All three current titles in the series have rocketed up the bestseller charts. This coming Friday at midnight bookstores across America will be packed with teenage girls ready to pounce on volume four, Breaking Dawn, the last to be narrated by the current heroine. Oh-oh, why is she stopping? We’ll soon know. The first book, Twilight, will be released as a huge holiday movie on December 12. Seriously, next time you see a flock of teenage girls gabbing together on a streetcorner, check out that huge black paperback they’re all lugging around like New Age Bibles. That’s it, the book I’m talking about. The Twilight series.

A whole new generation is learning the fatal charms of the bad boy. Now check out a similar situation just across the ocean in Japan.

Natsuo Kirino takes the bad boy mythos out of fantasy altogether and places it simply and believably in present teenage reality. Unlike the vampire series, her new novel, Real World, is written for adults.   Real WorldHer four Japanese teenage girlfriends live in Tokyo, share secrets, and cram for exams, much like their American counterparts dodging vampire fangs in Forks, Washington, but these girls don’t become fascinated by otherworldly superboys. Instead they become spellbound by the neighbor’s son of one girl, a teenager who violently murders his mother one morning and then steals the girl’s cell phone as he goes on the run, to later contact her and her friends. It’s thrilling, unputdownable stuff, with an uncomfortable realism. These teenage girls are in over their heads and don’t know it. They see the troubled boy as just a sad, dangerous peer on the run. In the war between teenagers and adults, they choose their own side.

There’s always been an undeniable romantic fascination with the bad boy, from Healthcliff to American Psycho. Kirino adds a dangerous bit of Raskolnikov into the brew. Ryo, the troubled young murderer that the girls nickname Worm, really believes that his mother deserved to die, and has a Dostoevsky-like complexity. He’s a scary lad, just vulnerable enough to make him slightly sympathetic, far more cunning than these four girls who think they can play with him.

Each of the friends becomes implicated with the young killer in a different way. Toshi doesn’t report the loud shattering sound she hears next door. Yuzan loans the young murderer her bike to escape. Pretty Kirinin meets him and decides to go with him. Only brooding, complicated Terauchi would ever dare to actually phone the police.

But what exactly is the right thing to do? Don’t be so sure you know. Kirino leaves the reader with no comforting answers. Simple actions have hugely complex moral repercussions in Kirino’s honest, head-on look at young people today. Her four friends are trying to grow up in a world where they’ve learned to see through adult lies, where they’re desperately cramming for exams while navigating the treacherous waters of social cliques. These kids are living under pressure of parental expectations in a world where none of the parents ever really understands what’s going on, where adults try to trap the girls into simple answers that are lies. Why would they start trusting adults now?

This fascinating novel reads like a bullet. The prose is simple and clear and utterly real. The moral decisions are subtle. The consequences catch you off-guard, unexpected and yet feeling completely true. Written from five different points of view, Real World leaves plenty of room for interpretation as it swiftly spins out its disturbing cautionary tale of four ordinary, everyday girls who think they can dabble in evil without consequences.

It’s the August book club selection at University Book Store in Seattle.

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About the Author:

Nick DiMartino is a university bookseller in Seattle, WA. He was a Booklist contributor from 2007 to 2009 and is the author of Seattle Ghost Story (1998) as well as numerous plays.

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