18. A children’s book: Kiki’s Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono
List Progress: 24/30
There is something special about children’s stories that are not just about one big adventure. Adulthood is not a single obstacle to overcome and be done with; it’s a collection of choices and challenges and successes and struggles that happen every day over years and years. The 1985 Japanese novel Kiki’s Delivery Service, by Eiko Kadono, is magical, about a young witch using her flying broom to make her way in the world, but it is also delightfully mundane. The story follows Kiki from her thirteenth birthday, when young witches set out on their own to prove themselves, through her first year on her own. There are ups and downs and plenty of beginnings, but perhaps most importantly, there are no endings. Just days, followed by more days.
Most Western audiences will know Kiki’s Delivery Service from the 1989 Hayao Miyazaki adaptation of the same name. While the quiet, wistful tone of the story is maintained, the film did have to conform the story to a more conventional movie narrative structure (which is not a criticism, just the nature of adaptations). The novel is largely made up of a series of vignettes, around different jobs that Kiki takes on, delivering things by broomstick around the seaside metropolis that she has made her home. She is not trying to accomplish any larger grand mission, just to figure out how to be an adult figure in a variable world. The only bit of home she has brought with her is her talking black cat Jiji, so it is up to her to make friends and navigate new relationships. And that can be a challenge, because Kiki is not always pleasant or optimistic. The book makes it clear that everyone has bad days, and there are just some times when Kiki is going to be grumpy or annoyed for no good reason, and that is also something to be navigated.
These sound like obvious lessons, but Kadono’s story lays them out gently and smoothly, with Kiki and Jiji feeling like real, rounded characters. Kiki’s Delivery Service teaches that life can be difficult and that there will be struggles along the way, but that they can be worked through and learned from. There is no finish line, but enjoying the flight along the way can be just as much of a victory.
Would I Recommend It: Yes. The 2020 English translation by Emily Balistrieri and illustrated by Yuta Onoda is very sweet.