Translator – Philip Gabriel
‘If you’re told it’ll definitely come true,’ Masamune said, ‘then everyone will have a wish or two.’
Kokoro, a 7th grader who no longer attends school because of “the incident”, has the house to herself during the day while her parents are at work. She spends her time watching TV, hiding from the world outside her home.
One day a light appears from inside her mirror. Before she’s even barely begun investigating this strange occurrence, Kokoro finds herself on the other side of the mirror. There, in a castle that looks like it belongs in a fairytale, she meets others whose mirrors have learned the same new trick:
- Aki is in the 9th grade and appears to have her act together
- Fuka wears glasses, has a high pitched voice and is in the 8th grade
- Masamune is in the 8th grade and is likely to be playing a video game whenever you see him
- Subaru is in the 9th grade and is described as looking like Ron from Harry Potter
- Ureshino is already in love with being in love and he’s only in the 7th grade
- Rion is a handsome 7th grader who plays football.
The seven strangers are met by the Wolf Queen, who tells them the rules of the castle.
‘From now until next March, you will need to search for the key that will unlock the Wishing Room. The person who finds it will have the right to enter and their wish will be granted.’
Over the course of many months, the group slowly get to know one another and discover what they have in common. Despite the fairytale elements and some magical realism, the core of this book addresses some difficult topics, albeit in a sensitive way. I loved the focus on mental health, particularly anxiety, and how it impacts other areas of our functioning, including physical health and social interactions.
I liked the characters, although some were given more detailed backstories than others. I was most intrigued by Aki and wanted to spend more time behind what I saw as her protective wall. I would have loved to have learned what happened to all of the seven after the events of the story. I definitely wanted more page time with the mysterious Wolf Queen, hoarder of the best lines:
‘Can’t you simply be satisfied that you’ve been chosen as heroes in a story?’
Anyone who knows me knows I love portal stories and I found myself bingeing this one. There weren’t as many fantasy elements as I’ve experienced in other portal stories I’ve read. I also got to know the characters and the rules of the castle at a more leisurely pace than I’d expected. Neither were a problem for me, though. The payoff at the end ticked all the boxes for me, confirming some suspicions and answering most of the questions I had. This is definitely a book I want to reread.
How could a portal into a different world not be appealing?
Content warnings include bullying, grief, mental health, sexual assault and mention of death by suicide.
Thank you so much to NetGalley and Doubleday, an imprint of Transworld Publishers, Penguin Random House UK, for the opportunity to read this book.
Once Upon a Blurb
How can you save your friend’s life if she doesn’t want to be rescued?
In a tranquil neighbourhood of Tokyo, seven teenagers wake to find their bedroom mirrors are shining.
At a single touch, they are pulled from their lonely lives into a wondrous castle filled with winding stairways, watchful portraits and twinkling chandeliers. In this new sanctuary, they are confronted with a set of clues leading to a hidden room where one of them will be granted a wish. But there’s a catch: if they don’t leave by five o’clock, they will die.
As time passes, a devastating truth emerges: only those brave enough to share their stories will be saved.
Tender, playful, gripping, Lonely Castle in the Mirror is a mesmerising tale about the importance of reaching out, confronting anxiety and embracing human connection.
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