Hiromi Goto; illustrations by Jillian Tamaki
2010; Viking; ISBN 978-0-670-01220-6 (hardcover)
Summary: Melanie and her mother are poor, living on the edge of existence. Then, Melanie comes home from school and discovers her mother has disappeared. Her mother has, in fact, returned to Half World, the shadow world between the Realm of Flesh and the Realm of Spirit. Held captive by an evil creature called Mr. Glueskin, Melanie's mother seems lost. But Melanie won't give up on her mother and sets out on a journey into the nightmare of Half World. By saving her mother, though, Melanie just might save all three realms.
A seemingly simplistic story reveals great truths in this illustrated novel. Drawing upon concepts of Buddhism such as rebirth and the cycle of samsara, Half World illuminates these concepts for unfamiliar readers. But these lessons do not swamp the heart of the novel: Melanie's love for her mother. Through the awful sights she sees, Melanie keeps her mind set on saving her mother. Yet standing in Melanie's way is Mr. Glueskin, a vividly-described, creepily atmospheric creature. Other characters like Jade Rat, Ms. Wei and Gao Zhen Xi are equally memorable. At the end of the novel, not only has Melanie achieved an epic feat, but she has come of age as a young woman. Pass this novel to fans of The Graveyard Book or Zen and the Art of Faking It.