Release Date: August 5, 2014
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Since The Ring’s explosion onto the big screen in 2002 and the subsequent premiere of The Grudge in 2004, the images of pale faces, black hair, and contorted bodies have haunted our dreams. On August 5, 2014, Rin Chupeco releases her version of the original Banchō Sarayashiki Japanese story, considered to be one of the most famous in Japanese culture.
Okiku is three hundred years old, and she is a part of the “murdered-dead,” those who were viciously killed and roam the earth for vengeance. Okiku says that these particular spirits “do not go gently,” eerily pulling from poet Dylan Thomas to explain her complicated situation. But she’s not the horrific Japanese stereotype you may be considering right now, at least not all of the time. When she appears to avenge those murdered children, the victims (if you can call them that) see her as a corpse, bloated and broken, just as she was found at the bottom of the well that she was thrown down. To Tark, the “strange” fifteen year old boy with tattoos who has just appeared on her radar, she more often appears as a sweet young girl; he even calls her pretty at one point.
When Tark moves and begins school adjacent to the one where his cousin, Callie, is a teaching assistant, things begin to become strange, and Callie can’t ignore the supernatural signs that surround her. Callie must try and protect Tark and accept the assistance of something in which she was never sure she really believed. Their journey takes them from America to Japan, in an effort to save Tark from the dark spirit that is imprisoned inside him.
In an era of YA filled with cancer stories, dystopian futures, and coming-of-age tales, it is refreshing, although frightening, to step into a book that sets out to make you stay awake at night. Chupeco’s descriptions of dead children hanging on the backs of those who killed them and of the dolls with the black eyes of souls are beautifully captured. The journey from America to Japan feels more like a scene from a movie where the protagonist must go on a long journey to find out information from a source that could symbolize life or death. Instead of posturing a tale that seems more like the script of a movie, Chupeco is incredibly successful at weaving a new, psychological account with that of the legend. The fear of a “bloated” Japanese girl hanging from the ceiling comes across as benevolent, and Okiku is able to shake off the clichéd vision from the movies.