This was a delightful book bound to become a comfort read for those who love books and a bit of magical realism. Rintaro is a rather shy high school student. He spends his free time working in his secondhand bookstore, which he has inherited after his grandfather died. He loves the calmness and stability of the bookstore but it is seems that it he won’t be able to keep the shop open much longer.

One evening the bell over the door jingles and in walks a cat. Rintaro is confused when no human appears with the feline. He is even more confused when the cat speaks.

“A furry coat, bushy tail, two piercing green eyes, and two neat triangular ears — there was absolutely no doubt it. It was a cat.

The tabby whisker’s twitched.

‘Hey, kid, something wrong with your eyes?’ it asked. This wasn’t a creature that minced words.” ~Loc. 202

The cat has a quest that only Rintaro can fulfill — he must save the books in peril in another dimension. Each labyrinth will test his cleverness, honor, and loyalty. If he fails the words will be lost and Rintaro will be trapped forever. 

The first labyrinth is inhabited by a man who reads a hundred books a month. He reads anything and everything — then he puts them in a glass case. Rintaro must convince the man to release the books, and himself from such a punishing schedule. 

The second labyrinth is in an institute of reading research. The director cuts up books in an effort to streamline reading so people can read faster, and read more. His justification is that many unread stories will finally be read, if they can be reduced to ten percent of their original content. 

The third labyrinth is at World’s Best Books, a mega-publisher that prints and sells anything and everything without care. The publisher admits to putting out junk just so it will make money for his business.

“Nobody’s interested in truth or ethics or philosophy. People are worn out from living. All they want is either to be stimulated or healed. The only way for books to survive in such a world is for them to metamorphose. Dare I say it? Sales are everything. No matter how great a masterpiece, if a work doesn’t sell, it vanishes.” ~ President of World’s Best Books

Rintaro and his friend Sayo must outwit these bookish villains but not through force or trickery. Instead they try to find ways to convince them to change their ways for good and free the trapped books. And while the cat acts as a wise guide, he allows the teenagers to devise their own plans. 

The book truly is one for readers who simply love the smell of ink on pages, of old bindings, overpacked shelves, wobbling stacks, and a feline companion. It shines in its simplicity of phrasing even as it shares some ageless wisdom.

“A book that sits on a shelf is nothing but a bundle of paper. Unless it is opened, a book possessing great power or an epic story is a mere scrap of paper. But a book that has been cherished and loved, filled with human thoughts, has been endowed with a soul.” ~ The Cat, Loc. 1984

My thanks to HarperCollins for the e-galley. Read via NetGalley.

Publisher: ‎HarperVia (December 7, 2021)
Language: English
Translated from the Japanese by Louise Heal Kawai
Hardcover: ‎208 pages
ISBN-10: ‎0063095726