Book Review – Penance by Kanae Minato

This was my first book by Kanae Minato, but based on how much I loved it, I already bought her debut and plan to read soon. I’ve been trying to branch out a bit into more translated books since I’m noticing a more Western lean to my reading habits lately, and this was highly recommended on several lists of Japanese thrillers.

PENANCE is not for the faint of heart, let’s get that out of the way first. The book starts with a horrific tragedy that’s like something out of a Special Victims Unit episode, and while the details of the actual incident aren’t specified, the thorough description of the aftermath could be really triggering for a person.

Five young girls head to a playground to spend an afternoon without school, and only four make it home. The rest of the book is told from the viewpoints of each of those four girls as they become women, dealing with what happens after the tragic event, and how it shapes each of their lives moving into adulthood.

There are some really heavy situations in this, and lots of stuff that could be upsetting. I’m not even sure how I’d begin to write a full list of content warnings, because there’s just so much hurt and trauma and pain of all kinds – emotional, physical, mental. I’ll be honest – I cried toward the end of this; there’s no huge paranormal lean or creature feature here. Sometimes the most powerful stories about monsters are the ones where they’re human, because so many of us can relate to the power a horrible person can have over your life.

Although this is a story about tragedy and revenge, there are also underlying – and maybe even more lasting – themes of forgiveness at the end, not just for other people, but for yourself.

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