Reviewed by Mechele R. Dillard for TeensReadToo.com
Hiroshi Ishizaki's premise for this novel is an interesting one: Have characters who do not know each other writing a novel within a novel. Four lonely teens--Yukari, Sawako, Mai, and Mayumi--enter into the world of role playing through an anonymous chain e-mail, allowing them to create a fictional world in which each girl assumes the role of a character. The girls then write scenes from their respective character's point of view, building a story with the intention of creating their own private, if fictitious, world of mystery and intrigue.
Eventually, however, the words of the created heroine begin to ring true in the girls' real lives: "When you talk about scary things, people start to think that you're the one who's scary" (p. 38). Only, in this case, those coming to consider the girls scary are not outsiders, but the girls themselves.
CHAIN MAIL was originally published in Japan by Kodansha Ltd., Tokyo, in 2003. It was later translated into English by Richard Kim and adapted by Rachel Manija Brown. While the overall concept is good, the translation does lapse into stilted, unnatural language on occasion, and American teens may find it hard to bond with the characters. From the girls' names to the situations in which they find themselves--stressing over "cram school;" removing their shoes and storing them in "shoe lockers" while attending classes; Mayumi "treating herself to a bowl of barbecued eel over rice" (p. 107)--many American girls will be unable, initially, to relate to these characters, and may give up on the story too early.
But footnotes are included for the more confusing aspects--"cram schools," for example, are described as, "Schools in Japan that prepare students for university entrance examinations by way of an accelerated curriculum" (10)--and if the reader is willing to embrace an unfamiliar culture, she, too, may find herself slipping breathlessly into the fictitious world created by Ishizaki and, within its pages, the world of mystery and intrigue created by her central characters.