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Review: Natsume’s Book of Friends

All his life Takashi Natsume has been able to see things that others cannot. Since his parents died after he was born, Takashi has spent his life being shipped from relative to relative, with all of them too scared of him to keep him for long. Now that he is in high school, he has finally found a home and, with the discovery of a mysterious book that belonged to his grandmother Reiko Natsume, he may be on his way to finding some answers to his mysterious ability. Like Takashi, Reiko had the ability to see yokai–spirits and demons–but she used that ability to bully those spirits, locking their names away in her book. Now Takashi must return those names to their rightful owners…dangerous beings who will do anything to get back their names.

Natsume’s Book of Friends
Yuki Midorikawa
Rated: Teen
VIZ, January 2010, ISBN 978-1-4215-3243-1
208 pages, $9.99

Midorikawa’s manga is as quiet and gentle as her main character. Takashi is an outcast who has learned, out of necessity, to be a wallflower. Imagine never knowing your parents and then add on top of that the horrors of seeing scary monsters which no one else can see. Even worse, no one believes you and they reject you for your visions. Though Takashi is now in a good home, he tries hard to be unobtrusive so that they won’t be bothered by him. His pain is never overstated, but is, none-the-less, heart-breaking. Natsume’s Book of Friends is the ironic name that Reiko gave to the book in which she wrote the stolen names, but now, with a new generation, that title takes on a new meaning. It becomes about Takashi learning to give and receive friendship–from the yokai, from his classmates, and from his new family.

The art of this manga is in keeping with the feel of the story. Midorikawa uses very thin lines to draw in her characters, so her art appears light and airy. Though her panels are often full of details, she will step back and allow them to fill with open space or one single, powerful image at just the right moment. She uses a lot of gray and black shading, but always at appropriate places, never over-screentoning as in some shojo manga. Though this is just the first volume of the series (which is at nine volumes and counting in Japan), Midorikawa is off to an excellent start. Readers who have enjoyed other thoughtful fantasies, such as CLAMP’s xxxHolic or Yuki Urushibara’s Mushishi (both from Del Rey Manga), will also enjoy becoming friends with Natsume.

Snow Wildsmith About Snow Wildsmith

Snow Wildsmith is a writer and former teen librarian. She has served on several committees for the American Library Association/Young Adult Library Services Association, including the 2010 Michael L. Printz Award Committee. She reviews graphic novels for Booklist, ICv2's Guide, No Flying No Tights, and Good Comics for Kids and also writes booktalks and creates recommended reading lists for Ebsco's NoveList database. Currently she is working on her first books, a nonfiction series for teens.

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