Don’t Let the Hedgehog Fool You: A Dark Coming-of-Age Story

earthlings book cover

Earthlings by Sayaka Murata, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori

From childhood, Natsuki has felt like she doesn’t belong. Her family openly ridicules her. No one at school understands her. Her teacher takes advantage of her. The only way she can make sense of the world around her is through imagining that she has access to magic, and that she might secretly be an alien from another planet. Then there’s her cousin Yuu. In Yuu, Natsuki feels like she’s found another soul that is an outsider just like she is. But when Yuu and Natsuki are pulled apart, the two make a promise to each other: to survive. No matter what.

Now, Natsuki is an adult, and her feelings of alienation have only grown stronger. She’s married to a man who has zero interest in even touching her. Everyone around her is pressuring her to start a family. Meanwhile, Natsuki is relentlessly haunted by the nightmares of her past.

Natsuki is desperate for an escape from the pressures of adulthood and the expectations of what it means to be a productive member of society. And so she heads to the only place that ever made her feel at home: her family retreat in the mountains of Nagano, far away from the judgmental eyes of her peers. What’s more, she invites Yuu to meet her there. But Yuu comes to Nagano with his own thoughts about how to escape society. Will he be ready to keep his promise to Natsuki? And what will these two be capable of doing when they’re reunited?

This novel, as you might have already gleaned, is dark and disturbing. Content warnings for nearly everything you can think of: cannibalism, incest, sexual assault, murder, trauma, child abuse. This book is anything but an easy read. Like Natsuki, I found myself really clinging on to the more fantastical moments of this novel, hoping for moments of solace amidst the bleakness of what’s happening to our main character. And yet with all of that being said, I could not put Earthlings down. Not for a second.

Earthlings really spoke to me as a heart-breaking narrative of losing oneself in past trauma and feeling suffocated by the expectations of others. While Natsuki’s circumstances are extreme, I think a lot of us (myself included) can identify with those feelings. I also loved that author Sayaka Murata wasn’t afraid of making this story really, really strange. Here, Murata is taking a lot of the themes and ideas from her novel Convenience Store Woman and exploding them into something horrifying and earth-shatteringly unique. So if you read that and thought to yourself, “I wish this main character would just set the world on fire,” Earthlings might be your book. If you love good books, even if they make you super uncomfy, Earthlings might be for you.

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