I have PanMacmillan Australia to thank for today’s awesome read of awesomosity. The Monster on the Road is Me by J. P. Romney is by turns a funny, strange and creepy exploration of Japanese folklore in a YA contemporary setting and we absolutely loved it from start to finish. In fact, we enjoyed it so much we have branded it a “Top Book of 2016” pick!
But more of that in a minute.
Let’s start with the blurb from Goodreads:
It starts with the crows. When you see them, you know he s found you.
Koda Okita is a high school student in modern-day Japan who isn’t very popular. He suffers from narcolepsy and has to wear a watermelon-sized helmet to protect his head in case he falls. But Koda couldn’t care less about his low social standing. He is content with taking long bike rides and hanging out in the convenience store parking lot with his school-dropout friend, Haru.
But when a rash of puzzling deaths sweeps his school, Koda discovers that his narcoleptic naps allow him to steal the thoughts of nearby supernatural beings. He learns that his small town is under threat from a ruthless mountain demon that is hell-bent on vengeance. With the help of a mysterious – and not to mention very cute classmate – Koda must find a way to take down this demon. But his unstable and overwhelming new abilities seem to have a mind of their own.
And here are Five Things I’ve Learned From The Monster on the Road is Me by J. P. Romney:
1. It is highly unlikely that attacks of narcolepsy could ever be considered a superpower. But then again…
2. When chatting with a mysterious new girl in order to size up whether she would be good girlfriend material, always be sure to check whether or not said mysterious girl is in fact human.
3. Shiitake farming is a perfectly honorable occupation.
4. When the weight of the world gets too much, there is always cosplay.
5. If you ever lay eyes on a three-legged crow, it’s already too late.
Given that this is a Japanese story written by an American author, it would be reasonable to think that there may be some cultural aspects to the characterisation or plot that don’t quite sit right. Happily, Romney has managed to avoid any major pitfalls of blending a Western brain with an Eastern narrative and has combined the best of both worlds. While the story is narrated by Koda, a Japanese boy, it’s clear that Romney has slipped in some of his own curiosities about Japanese life and culture into Koda’s narration. The brand tag line of a popular form of lolly, for example, or the events included in the school’s athletics day are two things that are highlighted as being more than a little …unexpected, perhaps…and I think this is a nod from the author to his not-Japanese readers and an affectionate tip of the hat to the idiosyncrasies of contemporary Japanese culture. I found them suitably amusing, I must say.
In fact, the humour throughout the story is one of the book’s most appealing features. Koda, as a narrator is hilariously self-deprecating and he is supported by a cast of similarly amusing, and bizarre, characters. My two favourites of this supporting cast were Yori, the cosplaying ex-school-bus-driver-turned-accountant who fights crime by night on Youtube and Ikeda-sensei, the ex-sumo wrestling high school gym teacher with an ill-concealed dislike of high schools, gym and teaching. I will admit to getting the giggles (yes, giggles, not guffaws, chuckles or belly laughs) during a scene in which a kappa (a Japanese river spirit) possesses some of Koda’s friends. All in all, Romney’s style of comedy matched mine perfectly, which no doubt contributed to my enjoyment of the story. If you aren’t a fan of dry banter mixed with ridiculous antics, you may not find it as funny, but at least now you’ve been warned.
Amidst the humour are some decidedly creepy elements. The swarm of crows and the multiple suicides certainly bring the mood down a little and it’s obvious that there is some higher power that has set its will against the good folk of Kusaka town. I can’t say much more here because it relates to the major mystery elements of the story, but I loved the way things moved between ordinary, teen problems and major supernatural sh*tstorm problems without missing a beat.
I’m not sure if this book is going to be part of a series or not – the ending here is a definite ending, yet there is scope, given what has been revealed about the characters, to expand on the story – but either way, I would highly recommend getting lost in the world that Romney has created here. As some of the characters in the book can no doubt attest (Shimizu-sensei, I’m looking at you here), The Monster on the Road is Me is the very essence of escapist storytelling.
Until next time,