A Diamond in the Rough
When TokyoPop began their ill-fated Japanese YA imprint, certain books were given more of a spotlight than others. Novels that had inspired popular and well-known Anime franchises were promoted more than original works that had little to no previous name recognition. Calling You, regrettably, was one of those works. The virtually unknown novel was one of the most scarcely promoted books by the American publisher.
First published in Japan in 2001, Calling You was far from a debut for Otsuichi. Already a recognized rising star in Japanese literature—having written his debut novel while still in high school—his list of previously published works included bestselling titles such as Zoo and Goth, which were both subsequently turned into feature films.
It wasn’t long after picking up my purchase at the bookstore that I began to read the collection of pages.
Calling You is a series of three short stories that revolve around young characters each finding themselves in situations that defy reality, but still question the meaning of each of their lives. In the first story, readers are introduced to a young girl who has a problem—everyone has a cell phone but her. Envious of her classmates’ objects, she spends her days imagining a cell phone within her mind. Designing every aspect in minute detail, she obsesses over the imaginary phone for such a long period of time that she soon forgets at times it’s not even real, finding herself searching for it in her bedroom. When her make-believe phone begins to ring, she starts to question her own sanity. Answering the calls, she discovers that there are others, others like her with similar phones. But when she tries to meet with one of her fellow callers, she soon finds her blessing turn into a race against time, a race that threatens to leave one caller in a dead zone.
In the second story, the author introduces readers to two average young boys. Life seems normal for the two until one discovers that the other has a special ability: he can heal people’s afflictions. By a mere touch of the hand he can repair horrific burn marks and any other affliction of the body. There’s just one catch. In order to take away the affliction, the boy must accept it as his own. Unselfishly he helps those he can, slowly inflicting more and more damage to his own life and risking terminal illness. Eventually he discovers he has the ability to pass on the afflictions onto others. Will the boy’s soul be able to resist the urge to inflict his pain against his hospitalized father or can his friend, who is willing to risk his life, stop him in time?
The third and final story follows a young pregnant woman who is involved in a horrific train accident that leaves her childless. Coping with severe depression in a secluded clinic, she shares a room with two other patients suffering from the same issue as her. The three discover a strange flower with what appears to be the face of a baby, and they hide it from sight, keeping it safe in their room. But when the flower begins to hum a song that a past patient used to love, the young woman begins to uncover a mystery that may lead her to a truth she never thought she could find.
There aren’t many books these days that deserve to be called a masterpiece. In fact, in a market like we have today, the best you can usually hope for is an entertaining read. But without a doubt, I feel that is exactly what this inconspicuous book is: a masterpiece, pure and simple.
Though small, and seemingly less important than heavier works, its message and delivery outperform even the thickest of paperbacks. Beautiful illustrations, gripping prose, excellent character development and thought-provoking twists fill the pages of this work. Otsuichi successfully creates a short piece of fiction that defies the expectations of those who discover it.
Each story builds upon the next leading to a culminating message about love and the purpose of life that proves more than relevant for our daily lives. The book is short enough to be read quickly in a single day, and yet powerful enough to haunt your memories for years to come. The emotional and philosophical impact of this book cannot be overstated.
This collection of three people’s journeys to understand their world is nothing short of inspiring. Calling You is what Young Adult fiction should strive to be: simple, imaginative, powerful, straight to the point, thought-provoking and deeply meaningful. If there is anything negative to be said, it is that this book has not received more attention when it so rightly deserves it.
Matthew Reeves is an aspiring novelist living in California. You can usually find him lost in thought on a walk or writing on Twitter as @MattReeves17.