I grew up on a farm, and as a kid with a lot of free time on my hands, I spent a lot of time just exploring the farmstead. Wandering about, investigating old buildings, and occasionally picking up a fallen branch to wield against imaginary threats were par for the course. Reading Tomihiko Morimi’s latest release, Penguin Highway, took me right back to those simple mysteries of my youth.
Penguin Highway revolves around Aoyama, a 10-year-old boy who is unique amongst his classmates. He’s incredibly analytical. He breaks everything down with the help of his notebooks and his friends, Uchida and Hamamoto. Aoyama is at the same time both emotionally detached and voraciously curious. Everything is a problem that can be solved using the scientific method, from seeking the source of a local river to dealing with Suzuki, the local bully who interferes with just about every mystery Aoyama tries to solve.
So Aoyama is immediately on the case when, on a random May day, a group of penguins appear in town. They pop up, waddle around, and then life goes on. That’s a theme that crops up a lot in this book. With all the mysteries that stand before Aoyama and his friends, they never forget to stop and enjoy life around them. Aoyama digs deeper and studies the connections between the penguins, other strange phenomena in the area, and the mysterious lady that works at the local dentist’s office. But he also spends time playing chess with Hamamoto and swimming at the local pool. This is a mystery that takes its time in unfolding, and encourages you to slow down and enjoy the pace of small-town life.
Through this laid-back rhythm, you get a chance to really get to know Aoyama. The story is told in first person, so you can see that while he’s extremely logical, he’s also not without emotion. He has a great love for outer space, a desire to bury the hatchet with Suzuki, and a slightly creepy breast fixation. Time is taken to show that Aoyama has a strong desire to better understand the world around him, and that his method of choice to cope with that is to thoroughly analyze and study nearly everything around him.
That isn’t to say that the book is entirely relaxed. As the mystery of the penguins unfolds and deepens, it builds to a pretty exciting climax where Aoyama and his associates face off with something incredibly powerful and dangerous. But in the end, Penguin Highway isn’t about strange occurrences or existential threats. It’s about finding the beauty and complexity in the seemingly mundane. It embraces Aoyama’s natural curiosity, giving the reader a chance to perhaps look at things in ways they hadn’t before. It dug up my own nostalgia for finding rusty old pulleys or stray piles of straw on the farm, wondering whether they connected to anything, and possibly stumbling upon a cool farm implement sign or a litter of kittens.
One of the best points that summarizes Penguin Highway for me is when Aoyama accompanies his father on the way to the bus station, before Dad departs on a business trip. His father taught him his method of studying the world around him, so when the penguin case has Aoyama stumped, he asks his father on what to do if, after all is said and done, he still doesn’t understand what he discovers. Dad simply replies, “Then go have fun until you do. Sometimes you just need to stop and play.” So do what I did, take some time out of your busy schedule, and have some fun exploring the unknown with Aoyama in Penguin Highway. It’s a relaxing, fun read that’s bound to make you want to wander.
I may be a fourth grader, but I know more than some adults. After all, I take notes every day, and I read all kinds of books. But now, there's penguins in my town! I know it has something to do with that girl at the dentist and her weird powers, so I'm gonna get to the bottom of it...Add to CartLearn More