Cover Image: Lonely Castle in the Mirror

Lonely Castle in the Mirror

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Member Reviews

3 to 3.5/5 stars. This was a very wholesome kind of book about some sad realities of dealing with hard social environments, being misunderstood, being bullied and scared, and various other mental health struggles. Being a translation from Japanese, there are some very specifically Japanese cultural things happening that may make some of the story a bit more work to fully understand. However, the story itself was very good and kept me reading and curious to know what kind of world I was reading about.
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For a few blissful and emotionally moving days, I had the privilege of travelling to the Lonely Castle in the Mirror with Kokoro and a group of solitary, outcast, and otherwise misfit junior high school students, with the purpose of a mysterious game created by a girl in a wolf mask and a frilly dress:

Find the key, hidden somewhere in the castle, and unlock one wish...

This story caught me completely by surprise. Much like the children in the book, I was enticed by the iridescent glow of the mirror, and sucked into a mystifying and inexplicable world that felt just like a fairy tale.

If you love classic fairy tales, portals, magical-realism, and things outside of our reality that are hard to understand, this is a book for you.

This is also a book for people who have (or still do), longed to be understood and to find your place amongst your peers.

"You're battling every single day, aren't you?"

If you've ever felt like you were drowning a well of loneliness, sucked in to a black hole of despair, or paralyzed by the incapacitating power of rejection.. You will surely relate to at least one of the characters in this book, if not all of them.

If I could hug and protect each and every one of the children in this story, I would do so with the fullest ferocity of a heart that knows the feelings of exclusion, abandonment, trauma, and unbearable loss that these children battled with every day.

But I didn't need to do that because they did it for themselves!

"We're going to support each other.
We'll fight - together."

This is the type of story that makes you want to be a better listener, to be more inclusive of those left on the outside, and to be a more care-ful toward the people around you.

The children in this story are ordinary kids who carry SUCH heavy burdens in each of their hearts, and yet they show us each of their brilliance, their ability to be exceptional friends to one another, and their determination to find ways to hold on to hope.

It is actually inspiring to read :')

I was completely undone by the emotional plot twist conclusion of this story. Tender, powerful, devastating, and delicately sensitive in just the way I needed it to be.

The ending was perfect. It holds the characters' hearts and the reader's heart together in a warm hug and leads us all to small reassurances that things will not always hurt as much as they do now, and that, with some help we can all overcome very difficult and painful things.

I finished reading this weepy and tearful and very very touched.

Thank you to Kokoro & friends, the Wolf Queen, and all the young people in this world who face the darkness of this world with courage, curiosity, and kindness - for making me feel proud to have been one of them.

"I was rescued.
There are children somewhere who, trembling, and at the risk of their own lives, pulled me by the arm and brought me back to this world... kept me tethered to the world, gave me the chance to grow up... now I'd like to pull those children by the arm."
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This was a really beautiful and heartfelt book that sparks conversations about mental health and well being among Japanese children. Each of the 7 children in the story have their own issues, resulting in an extended absence from school and I found the way in which each back story unfolded was really nuanced and lyrical. You can't help but feel for these kids and the pressures they are under, whether it be from bullying, or familial trauma or pressure to succeed and the way in which they all come together to support each other is stunning. I have to say that the reading experience for me was a bit of a struggle, as I did find that whenever I put the book down, I didn't really want to pick it back up again. I think that this was because the plot was definitely secondary to the characters, which is not what I usually read and often need a strong plot to compel me. With that being said, I definitely enjoyed this overall and would recommend it widely to anyone looking for a hopeful book.
I received a free copy of this from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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This was such a touching story about so many things (grief, bullying, abuse), but most of all friendship. I loved the fantastical element of this story. The story follows high schoolers in Japan, who meet at this magical castle. 

The castle can only be accessed via a mirror in each of their homes and through these meetings within the castl, we get to know the characters and their situations. Tsujimura did a beautiful job of weaving the characters together. I'm looking forward to reading other works by this author.
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What a brilliant exploration of mental health and how it has the ability to affect literally every waking moment of your life. I simply adored this book for how overt yet subtle everything was -- the allegories were perfectly painted, the overarching message on bullying and how it can have a lasting effect on children, everything from the first word to the last had me by the throat. 

I've always adored the more "lowkey" style of storytelling that's indigenous to East Asian literature, but none more well-known than Japanese writing. I really cannot recommend this book enough to anyone who might happen across it.
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At first, I was kind of disappointed that the game/key hunt aspect of the story wasn't really utilized and the mystery of this fantasy world was left largely unexplored by the characters. But that actually allowed the great parts of this book to shine and the focus on the characters' inner struggles and relationships with one another made this read really special. The story was really heartwarming, and by the end, I really felt for all the children at the castle.

However, this is a 500 page book that very easily could have been 300 pages. Though the plot and themes of this book were interesting and emotional, I don't think it warranted such a lengthy story. I would have enjoyed this much more if it was shorter.
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I picked up this book while I was on vacation hoping to find something that would fit my mood. I was expecting a contemporary story translated from the original Japanese, but what I found was something much deeper than that. The story follows Kokoro, a young girl who has recently decided not to go back to school. She's been bullied by one of the other students and worried that the student will keep her promise to kill her, Kokoro decides the best thing to do is stay away from her junior high school and just stay home. Her mother is quietly furious with her, her father thinks she's wasting her potential, but Kokoro doesn't want to deal with the trouble and more worried by her threats than anything else.

One day, the mirror in her bedroom begins to glow. Surprised by what is happening, Kokoro steps through the mirror to find herself in a massive and abandoned castle. She's greeted by a little girl wearing a wolf mask who tells her alongside six other kids around her age that they're about to embark on a hunt for a Wishing key. If you find the key, you can make one wish and it will come true. However, there's rules around the hunt; the castle is only open from 9AM to 5PM Japan time, you cannot bring other people into the castle, you cannot let anyone see you pass through the mirror, and you have only until March 30th (which is roughly 10 months) to find the key and make your wish or the castle will disappear forever. 

As the students settle into hanging out in the castle instead of going to school, they each learn a little bit about each other. One is obsessed with video games, while another falls in love with each of the girls. Another is a musical prodigy while the other comes to the castle from Hawaii. Throughout the story, you learn more and more about each kid figuring out the pieces of their life that they're not willing to share fully at the beginning. At first, I thought this was a bit annoying. My perceptions of the book was that it would be a massive scavenger hunt, cut throat as each kid fights each other to find the key, but the story is very different than what I imagined. In fact, it's quite the opposite as they do whatever they want within the confines of the castle. When I finally understood what actually is happening in the story, I became completely enamored and enjoyed every moment of it.

The story dives deeply into the themes of childhood and teenage mental health. While Kokoro may be escaping the bullies at her school, each of the students refuse to go to school for one reason or another. As their secrets are revealed in the story, it turns out that their issues are just as big as Kokoro's. This really fascinated me to see someone discussing mental health especially when it comes to young people who for any other intents and purposes are good students who work hard. Some face their parents, some face some real bullies, and others face horrors that no young person should ever experience. I loved this dissection creating teenage characters that aren't vapid and silly who only focus on relationships and superficial things. It's about young people who are lonely coming together to share in their loneliness.

It truly moved me to see these characters grow throughout the story. But the other aspect I truly loved was the castle itself. While the themes of mental health played vital role, there was still the story of the castle, the wolf girl, and the wishing key. While I will admit it'll take some time for the kids to finally start the hunt for the key and much of this novel is inspecting their lives and mental well being, it did surprise me at the end when everything finally came together. It combined my favorite kinds of science fiction and fantasy stories; falling through doors that open up into new worlds,. finding friends in the most unlikely places and people, and hoping for a brighter future with room to really make a difference in someone's life.

I absolutely adored this story and it really opened my eyes to the kinds of stories I'm in the mood for. I definitely recommend this to anyone who is feeling lonely this holiday season and it will have something that both the literary fiction/magical realism crowd as well as the speculative crowd would enjoy.
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5 Stars - Earnest, caring and very readable

Having a great affinity towards Japan I was more than happy to receive an advance copy of Lonely Castle in the Mirror by Tsujimura Mizuki. 

The story centers around Kokoro who just entered High School but is not going to school due to some bullying incidents we learn about as the plot progresses. In fact Kokoro has not even left her house for quite some time which makes her a hikikomori, someone who stops engaging in social contact with the world outside and stays at home. 
One day, a strange light emits from her mirror and upon touching it she is pulled into a sort of stereotypical castle from a fairy tale. There are also more children, all of them not going to school, coming there via the mirrors in their rooms and all with their own issues and backstories.
Very soon a strange girl in a wolf mask appears, calling herself the "Wolf Queen", and explains the rules: they can all come to the castle during school hours as they please and just spend time there any way they like. And until the end of the school year (which begins in spring in Japan) they have time to find a key to a special room.

And while this fairly strange setup with a task to solve could have evolved into a plot with plenty of adventure, Tsujimura actually chose a different approach that is far more interested in the everyday interaction of the children, their growing mutual trust and friendships and just what it can mean to be around people who understand. 

For most of the book, the children do not really care about their task but just enjoy spending time together, playing video games or just hanging out. However, the plot does progress and slowly more and more things quite obviously do not add up and some additional mysteries provide even more reason to keep the pages turning. Honestly, I could barely put this book down and loved every moment of it!

The resolution that ties all of the strings together I found to be very satisfyingly neat, all done up with a pretty bow!

Tsujimura is sometimes almost painfully earnest in taking her protagonist's pain and anxieties seriously and there have been a few moments where I thought from my adult point of view that Kokoro was a bit sensitive, wasn't she? But maybe that just goes to show how jaded one becomes with adulthood...
This book was first published in Japan 2017 and was an instant success which speaks abundantly of the state of Japan's youth. This edition is published by Erewhon who are quickly becoming a favourite publisher.

I have received an advance review copy via NetGalley from the publisher and voluntarily provide my honest opinion. Thank you very much!
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Kokoro is a young teen who, as a result of serious bullying, no longer can attend school. Her parents are surprisingly understanding and are mostly at a loss of how to help her. As such, Kokoro spends most of her time alone at home, yearning for friendship and wishing more than anything to be free of her trauma that keeps her trapped.

One spring day, Kokoro notices her mirror is alight - She discovers that it has become a portal to a magic castle in another world. She, along with 6 other young teens, are greeted by The Wolf Queen, who sets the rules of the game they have been summoned to play:
• They have one calendar year to find a hidden key in a hidden room in the castle. Whomever finds the key first, will be granted their greatest wish.
• The castle is only open from 9-5 JST - if they do not return home via their own mirror, they will face dire consequences.
Kokoro is determined to find the key to fulfill her greatest wish: to have her bully completely disappear.

The pacing of this novel is a bit different than most YA novels. The first 2/3 move slow but steady, and is largely focused on the relationship development between Kokoro and her 6 cohorts, whom also are struggling with various aspects of their adolescence. Tsujimura really captures the communication style and thought processes of most teens - not yet emotionally mature or productive communicators, who are consumed with the external - "What did this person think of me?" "Did I upset them?" "Did I do something stupid?" "Will they ever talk to me again?" etc etc. The last 1/3 is where the plot and pacing really kicks in and culminates into an incredible and tender ending.

Overall - this book is not focused on adventure or magic - its about the power of human connection, and how we are able to find our true community when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable.
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This was both heartbreaking and clever, and left me both in tears by the end, and smiling.

Kokoro is not in school. She has not returned to school in a while, after successive bullying incidents that are gradually revealed to the reader, and she spends her days watching tv and her street, and wonders if everything is passing her by, and whether she can ever return to school.

One day, the mirror in her bedroom begins shining, and when she touches it, she’s drawn into a castle, and meets six other kids, all around her age, and a strange young girl wearing a pretty frock and wolf mask. The wolf girl gives all the kids the rules around their time in the castle, including the length of time it’ll be available to them to visit. And a quest to find a key which will grant the finder a wish.

Kokoro gradually discovers all the kids have stopped going to school, and over many months they begin opening up to each other. We find that they all have experienced deep sadness, neglect, bullying, or assault, all of which have contributed to their decisions not to attend school. Also, they discover that a few of them have had contact with a kindly teacher from an alternate school intended to provide support and education for those who cannot function in the regular school system. And, intriguingly, they all attend the same middle school.

I was concerned by the slow start at first, and how long it took to really get to know the characters, but suddenly, I was deeply invested in the lives of Kokoro and the others, and felt their pain, sadness and loneliness, and how difficult they all found it to reach out to others.

And when the author finally revealed what was really happening, omigosh, she had me and I was crying. The kids and their relationship, and the implications of this friendship on their “real lives” really hit me hard, as well as the difficulties each kid had in acknowledging the bad things going on in their lives. But it wasn’t all grim, as there was a sense of hope by the end, as the castle and their time together transformed the kids’s lives. This book was lovely, and deeply emotional, and I loved it.

Thank you to Netgalley and to Erewhon Books for this ARC in exchange for my review.
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This novel follows Kokoro, a Junior High student who finds that she unable to go to school following severe bullying. One day while she is staying home from school, Kokoro finds that the mirror in her bedroom is shimmering, and steps inside of the mirror and into a magical castle, where she and several other teens are tasked by the mysterious "Wolf Queen" with finding a key. Whoever finds this key will have their greatest wish granted, but none of them can discuss the castle or stay past curfew, or they will be eaten by the Wolf Queen.

Much of the story revolves around these characters building relationships with each other and learning more about each other's situations, as almost all of them are avoiding school for one reason or another. There are a lot of great discussions here about mental health, bullying, family difficulties, etc., and it was very touching to see how the relationships that these characters have with one another help them to develop confidence despite their individual struggles. As someone who struggles with anxiety, I related to Kokoro's experience of simply feeling that it would be impossible to go to school, of feeling physically ill in the mornings and not quite being able to articulate why to the adults around her. I think many teens and tweens will relate to the experience of having parents and teachers not fully understanding what they're going through even as they try their best to help.

I enjoyed the fantastical elements of the story as well, particularly how all of the mysterious bits and pieces of information come together near the end. There were some great twists and genuinely surprising moments, and all the pieces fit together in a way that made for an impactful ending.

There were a few things in the novel that I wish were handled a bit more sensitively. One of the characters is described as overweight and has faced bullying as a result of this, and while he was a complete character, he seemed to fall into some of the tropes of overweight characters, for example being occasionally described as more food-obsessed than the others, or his romantic interest in the girls being seen as ridiculous. It is also eventually revealed that one of the characters (who are all around 14) is dating an adult man in his twenties. I don't have a problem with this being depicted, necessarily, but it was a little surprising to see it without much discussion. These things grated a bit, but overall I don't think they outweigh the value of this story- they just might be things to think about when recommending this book or  discussing it with young people.
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So fun! The characters and setting were so interesting and extremely enjoyable. The exploration of emotions was so intriguing and thought-provoking.
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A heartwarming, fantastical coming-of-age story about seven children whose lives are irrevocably transformed by the lonely castle in their mirrors. The writing is just the right amount of childlike and wondrous, the splitting of the chapters (by month) is logical and perfectly bite-sized for interspersed reading sessions and the last 1/3 of the novel proves to be a heartbreaking whirlwind reminiscent of iconic tearjerker moments from various K- and J-dramas. While I wish the action was spread out more evenly throughout the novel and that we got to see all of the characters' POVs from the very beginning (instead of having their life stories info-dumped on us at the last second), I really resonated with this YA read about bullying, parental expectations and the toll these can take on school children. Highly recommend for those who haven't yet read it!
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It was a very exciting read. 
Going into the depths of the book in the blind was the best. I get to enjoy the read/journey thoroughly.

I loved every moment and still wish for more.
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Lonely Castle in the Mirror was an exciting and interesting book. I was intrigued with the characters because they were easy for me to empathize with. I really enjoyed the idea of escaping from my reality and would also love to fund my own sanctuary one day.
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Unsurprisingly, this is a very Japanese take on fantasy and family, and some of the phrasing doesn’t translate well – no one’s fault, language insufficiencies! But this is lovely. An examination of teen loneliness and anxiety, and dealing with loss and mental health issues all through the lens of a portal fantasy with threads of Japanese folklore woven in. A stunning book.
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I did not expect to love this novel as much as I did. The exploration of loneliness and fear were masterfully done. Kokoro was a relatable and endearing protagonist, and I loved following her journey. I highly recommend!
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This book was phenomenal and left me in near tears.
From the blurb I was hooked and interested straightaway. And the whole story had incredible vibes throughout. This is possibly tied for my book of the year. 

The translator did an excellent job on this work. I can only imagine how brilliant the original is but to be able to keep the emotions, imagery, pacing and characters so  vivid is a proper feat. 

I was thinking as I was reading it, particularly when the school discussion happened, how much I'd love this to be a timeline mismatch story. When the group discussed parallel worlds I was a bit gutted but that was quickly corrected by our mysterious Wolf Queen. Definitely glad to see it went the direction I hoped it would. 

Everything is a puzzle and we get to connect the dots with the students in the castle. Moreover we get to see these play out once we know. When Aki said she didn't want to share her new name, I thought for sure that was the moment we'd know she was Mrs Kitajima. But we don't really get to see how all the pieces fully fit together until the epilogue.

I think you can't help but suspect the Wolf Queen and her relationship with Rion is linked when he first mentioned his sister coming back. "But how would that work in this world?" Never would have guessed it the way it all unfolded.

The characters, what we get to know and keep learning about them, the pacing, the tying all together, literally all of was incredible. This is one I will think about for a long time, come back to the Lonely Castle again and again and recommend to everyone, their sister and their dog.
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Wow. It's hard to know what to write about in a review for a book that is practically perfection. I love this so much.

The writing was magical- the translator did an excellent job! Highly recommend if you like stories that explore serious themes of mental health and friendship through magical realism.

Also, while reading, I kept thinking how this would make such an incredible animated movie, and lo and behold, there's an anime movie coming out for it in December 2022! I'm so excited to see this magical story in animated form!
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Thank you Netgalley and Erewohn Books for the digital copy of this book.

Lonely Castle in the Mirror by Mizuki Tsujimara is a touching coming of age story about mental health and friendships with a twist of magical realism and fantasy.

The story starts with Kokoro Anzai, a twelve year old girl, who has just started junior high finds herself unable to go to school anymore because of what she has faced there. She stays in her bedroom all day and keeps the curtains closed and certainly does not want to step out of her house again. Her parents are supportive and do not force her to go to school but they have no idea about what she has been through or they can help her. One day, the mirror in Kokoro's room begins to shine and she is drawn into a different world with a huge lonely castle. There she meets a little girl with a wolf mask who calls herself the " Wolf Queen". The wolf queen explains that the castle  opens for Kokoro and six others - Aki, Fuka, Subaru, Rion, Masamune and Ureshino , who also have entered the castle through their mirrors, for one year, till 30th of March. In this time, they have to find a key hidden in the castle and the one who finds the key will have their wish come true. But the only rule is that the castle stays open from 9 am to 5 pm and anyone who tries to stay after this time will be eaten by a giant wolf !
Told beautifully in Kokoro's voice, the story travels between the world of castle and the real world. In the beginning, for Kokoro, the castle does not feel any different than school. But as she starts spending time at the castle with others she begins to realize that that she has made new friends. as Kokoro and others stories are told about what they have been through in their lives, it is clear that each of them has faced some issues and have suffered emotionally at such young age which is why they are unable to attend school and that the castle is their only solace. As the story moves on, many secrets are revealed and how they and support each other to overcome their problems and fears with the power of friendship, loyalty, trust and love.

As I started reading, I was intrigued by the magical realism and fantasy setting of the story. I liked how the fairy tale elements were incorporated in the story and the tricksy and smart wolf queen. But the part that really got me was the real world. I wanted to know more about Kokoro and the others lives.and the issues they were facing in the real world. I liked Kokoro's parents who were supportive of their daughter and did not force her to go to school. The book portrays how bullying can affect a person psychologically leading to develop severe and  issues. Apart from Kokoro, Aki and Rion's stories left me with heartache and the scene with Masamune and Subaru " You do have a friend..." was so heartwarming. As someone who has faced bullying and has mental issues, I know what it is like to have no friends and I felt a personal connection with the characters and some parts of the book made me cry. There were a lot of twists and turns which i did not see coming and the last few chapters blew my mind. This was a magnificent story filled with grief, trauma, joy, hope and showed how friendship, trust, loyalty and love can heal the wounds of the past. It shows what it is to grow up in today's world  and explores adolescent growth, trauma and mental health with its enchanting fairy tale elements. This book with its likeable characters, great pace, nicely structured writing was a total gem.
Thank you.
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