Book Review: “Rainbirds” by Clarissa Goenawan

Warning: If you have not read “Rainbirds” by Clarissa Goenawan, don’t read this review unless you don’t mind spoilers or already read the book!

I’m back with another book review, and this time it’s “Rainbirds” by Clarissa Goenawan! Here’s a summary so we know what it’s about:

“Ren Ishida is nearly finished with graduate school when he receives news of his sister Keiko’s sudden death. She was viciously stabbed one rainy night on her way home, and there are no leads. Ren heads to Akakawa to conclude his sister’s affairs, still failing to understand why she chose to abandon the family and Tokyo for this desolate town years ago.

But Ren soon finds himself picking up where Keiko left off, accepting both her teaching position at a local cram school and the bizarre arrangement of free lodging at a wealthy politician’s mansion in exchange for reading to the man’s catatonic wife.

As he comes to know the figures in Akakawa, from the enigmatic politician to his fellow teachers and a rebellious, alluring student named Rio, Ren delves into his shared childhood with Keiko and what followed, trying to piece together what happened the night of her death. Haunted in his dreams by a young girl who is desperately trying to tell him something, Ren struggles to find solace in the void his sister has left behind.”

This story is very slow-paced, which is both good and bad. Good, because it allows some time to go in-depth on Ren’s investigation into his sister, as well as relationship developments with Rio (more on that in a later paragraph) and the other characters. It also allows time for Ren’s own development as he struggles with grief over the loss of his sister, as well as horrendous nightmares and/or dreams involving a girl who he feels is familiar to him, yet he doesn’t know who it is (at least not until the end). The bad part about the plotline being so slow-paced is that sometimes, it just gets a bit too dragged on, and I found myself a tad impatient in getting the whole story read.

Ren is a character who definitely likes to shove his inner troubles inside. It’s hard for him to deal with the loss of his sister, and the story makes that extremely clear through how he lacks taking care of himself, the risky relationship he has with Rio, as well as the many other things he gets himself into. Eventually he does learn to cope with the loss of his sister, but it’s interesting to see how that loss, as well as flashbacks to his life when his sister was alive, end up affecting his present decisions in the story.

Rio and Ren’s relationship was, well…it was definitely interesting, and started out much like a teacher-student romance where they both clearly have some sort of attraction to each other, but neither one of them quite act on that attraction because they’re clearly aware of that attraction. Eventually both of them do get together, but briefly. Ren thankfully has the sense to shake off Rio and stop things before it gets too far and/or too dangerous for them. This is a good thing, because otherwise I fear they would not have ended so well if they continued their relationship. It does leave an ambiguous note, however, as of whether that relationship might come back to haunt Ren, and I can’t help but wonder what will happen with Rio after this happened.

Overall, I’m rating this book 4 out of 5 stars!

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