Published by Roaring Brook Press on October 25th 2016
Genres: young adult, fantasy
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A time-travel story that alternates between modern day and 19th century Japan as one girl confronts the darkness lurking in her soul.
No one knows what to do with Reiko. She is full of hatred. All she can think about is how to best hurt herself and the people closest to her. After a failed suicide attempt, Reiko’s parents send her from their Seattle home to spend the summer with family in Japan to learn to control her emotions. But while visiting Kuramagi, a historic village preserved to reflect the nineteenth-century Edo period, Reiko finds herself slipping back in time into the life of Miyu, a young woman even more bent on revenge than Reiko herself. Reiko loves being Miyu, until she discovers the secret of Kuramagi village, and must face down Miyu’s demons as well as her own.
Disappointing. If I had to review this book with one word, that would be it. I was really looking forward to this novel. YA novels set in Japan are coming more often, but there still aren’t that many out there. When they get published, I generally jump at the chance to read them. I am obsessed with Japan and Japanese culture. I should have paid more attention, however, knowing that it was also a time travel plot. I’ve read about a hundred time travel books and I can count on one hand the number that I have liked. But whatever, I still probably would have read it anyway, cuz Japan.
There was nothing that wrong about A Darkly Beating Heart but it wasn’t anything special either. The main character, Reiko, has all this rage and hate inside her, and I sort of get it because some people in her life were really cruel to her, but at the same time there was this disconnect between her character and her motivations. Like I didn’t really understand her behavior. I just don’t think any sane person would have reacted with rage. I would have been hurt, confused, and maybe felt betrayed, but I wouldn’t have wanted to kill someone over the things that they did to her. I didn’t like her or understand her at all. I don’t always have to love characters to enjoy a book, but I at least have to understand where they are coming from. Reiko just really missed the mark for me.
The writing and story itself was enjoyable enough, but that wasn’t anything special either. I’m not sure why a Youtube star would go to a festival in a remote village and perform there. I appreciated the diversity and yay for a bisexual protagonist that felt very realistic, but the execution of this book was just…not great.
I also have to mention a really stinky plot hole. Of course it could have been fixed in copy edits, but that would have probably meant the story changed a LOT because it was a pretty major “oops.” Early on in the novel, it is stated that when Reiko holds the stone, present time freezes because when she leaves the past to go back, time starts up from right where she left it. So why then later do people from present time take the stone out of her hand, making her leave the past? They should be frozen, right? The present isn’t still going forward while Reiko is in the past so that shouldn’t be able to happen. Unless I just don’t understand time travel, but in that case it should have been explained better.
And that’s just kind of how this book unfolds in a nutshell. It’s like that big giant plothole is a metaphor for the entire book. Very little clarity, lots of confusion, and I have whiplash from trying to understand it all. There’s always a chance that a lot of the story changed from the ARC by the time the book went to print, but I have no choice but to review that because that’s what I read.