Know Me Betterman: Dom Alvarez

Welcome back to the Know Me Betterman blog series, which features various fascinating people I know talking about the books they love. (Forgot what Know Me Betterman is? Click here.) This week I'm thrilled to be hosting my excellent compatriot Dom Alvarez, a fellow Simmons alum and maker of delightful crocheted objects. (She once gave me a crocheted bunny head. Everyone, say "Awwww.")

When Rebecca was asking for posters for this series I hesitated. I’m the sort who is full of themselves enough that they don’t generally think about what goes on in other people’s brains. Books I would recommend? Easy-peasy. But picking a book that would help someone get to know me? Hard. So hard in fact that I put off giving Rebecca a response for several days. But here is what all my brain-wracking came up with.

If, by chance, you would like to get to know me the book I would recommend is The Twelve Kingdoms: Sea of Shadow by Fuyumi Ono.

The Twelve Kingdoms series is fairly unknown. I’ve never met another person (in-person) who has read it unless I told them to. There are eight novels in the series, but only the first four were officially translated into English (you can find translations for the rest online if you try hard enough). The books are connected by characters and the world, but they weren’t released in chronological order (if you were to read the English releases in order it would go: 2nd book, 3rd book, 1st book, 4th book). The first book, Sea of Shadows, is a great place to start reading because the main character, Yoko Nakajima, is from our world and is brought into the world of the Twelve Kingdoms, and that makes world building so much easier. (Side note: I love this universe, it is well thought out and extremely orderly, and better yet there is a reason for the order.) Moving on!

I’m a character person. I love watching a character get beat down, pushed around, and forced to their limit. Even more, I like watching that character pick themselves up, overcome, and transform. This is probably the number one reason I’m so in love with Sea of Shadows. Yoko undergoes the most drastic character development of all the main characters I can think of. She starts off as a character that is frankly hard to like. I had an inclination for tolerance because I empathize with where she begins, but I can see how other people would dislike her.

At the start of the novel, Yoko is meek and quiet. She tries to please the people around her to such an extent that she fails to make a real bond with anyone. Her daily life seems to be slowly suffocating her, but she doesn’t seem to have any intention of resisting. I know that feeling. I feel like most of my elementary school years and half of high school involved me keeping my head down and nodding at the appropriate moments.

After Yoko has gone missing from our world and the police are questioning people at her school about her disappearance, one of her teachers says something to the effect of how even though Yoko was “a good girl” he would have forgotten about her after she graduated (if she hadn’t gone missing in a rather spectacular fashion). He also says that he thinks she has been acting like the kind of person that other people wanted her to be and that one day “she’d be horribly sad when she realized the truth. She would wonder exactly who she was. She might even want to disappear.” This scene always haunted me because those things were happening to me, and like Yoko I had no will or desire to alter that.

But throughout the novel Yoko get crushed, and beaten within an inch of her life, and cycled through the wring several times over. By the end of the novel (after a crazy downward spiral) she’s become self-assured and determined. She is finished with letting other control her life and is finally ready to be the main player. This series makes liberal use of foils (the literary device, not the weapon), which I love because I adore when characters have comparable situation but react different. In some ways I like to think of Yoko as a foil for myself. I know that we started off in a similar place and that she’s managed to overcome herself. I feel like I’ve been undergoing my own character growth these last several years, and I like to think that although I’m not on par with Yoko yet I’m making strides down that path.

Dom Alvarez is currently banished to the deserts of Arizona. She spends her time procrastinating, not being on any of her social media accounts, dashing back and forth between jobs, and trying to figure out how to overcome the 50 book limit at her local library.