Book Rec of the Month: Schoolgirl

Book Rec of the Month: Schoolgirl

Growing up is difficult. This idea is a topic covered by many authors, all trying to cash in on the ever growing genre of “coming of age” stories. In the west, the book that began this trend is widely believed to be The Catcher in the Rye. But what if a book that is meant to connect to me as a growing young person just doesn’t click? As much as I appreciated The Catcher in the Rye, I just couldn’t seem to identify with Holden. Enter Schoolgirl by Osamu Dazai. With its stunning writing and painfully relatable protagonist, this book was able to captivate me and fill the “coming of age” shaped void I hadn’t even realized was there (and you probably don’t either). 

To say the novella has a premise would be a bit of stretch. Our protagonist is an unnamed teenage girl, and the entirety of the novella is told through her perspective in a stream-of-consciousness format, much like The Catcher in the Rye. The novella spans just one day of this girl’s life, from the moment she wakes up to the moment she goes to sleep. However, we get to know her intimately through her thoughts, views on the world around her, and her interactions. 

One of the amazing aspects of this book is how it manages to touch on so many facets of being an adolescent. Dazai is able to put into words the feelings that accompany growing up in ways that make perfect sense. He captures the entirety of the emotion, allows the reader to stew with it, and then moves on, spending just enough time to give it impact. His deft use of metaphors beautifully portrays the protagonist’s outlook, and it never comes across as pretentious or convoluted. The blend of masterful writing, a compelling main character, and concision with which the story is told allows for Schoolgirl to be a gratifying and entertaining reading experience. 

What I believe sets Schoolgirl apart from its contemporaries is the main character’s self awareness. Too often, books written about teenagers forget the fact that there is an intellectual person behind the seemingly impulsive, hormonal, insecure actions that he or she takes. Dazai brings to light how painful the contradiction within an adolescent can be, primarily because they are hyper aware of this contradiction. This self awareness is present throughout the discussion of other struggles the main character grapples with, such as her individuality, authenticity, physical appearance, and limbo between immaturity and adulthood. 

Another factor to consider when reading this novella is how its time period and cultural differences don’t create the separation you’d think they would between yourself and the content. Schoolgirl was originally written in Japanese and takes place in 1930s Japan. Here and there, things do happen which would be out of the ordinary in the US in 2022, but the core themes of human emotion explored throughout can still deeply resonate with the reader no matter who or where they are. If anything, the differences in culture add another dimension to the novella, and allows one to explore what life was like for a young girl in 1930s Japan. 

I read Schoolgirl in May of 2021, and I don’t think a day has gone by where it hasn’t crossed my mind. It’s just one of those books that will deeply resonate with anyone, although specifically with the teenage female audience. I guarantee that you will have at least one line from the novella underlined and saved in your phone because somehow it was able to capture such a specific feeling you had in the most beautiful way imaginable. Do yourself a favor and read Schoolgirl by Osamu Dazai.