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by Ami Sakurai
Translated from the Japanese by Steven Clark
Reviewed by Caitlin Fehir

Innocent World may be a novella, but it generates the amount of discussion typical of tome-like novels or series. Its edgy content and even edgier messages led it to be passed around my workplace like contraband, with each reader becoming more stunned than the first. Grown women blushed, refused to read it aloud, and then continued to talk about it for days. We argued over the role of sex in literature, trying to define the place where artistic merit becomes merely shock value. Our conclusions—well, I don't know if we reached any.

What I do know is that any book that inspires discussion is a book worth reading. If an author can cause readers to question basic human values, that author has done her job. So, despite any reservations my co-workers and I may have had over Innocent World, Ami Sakurai is successful. She may leave no social taboo unturned, but she does so in a way that simultaneously incenses and intrigues the reader.

Sakurai's heroine is Ami, a seventeen year old girl who is one of the founders of Telephux, a prostitution business in Tokyo. Telephux is not the result of destitute women desperate for money to survive, but the brainchild of teens who wanted a job "more engaging than flipping burgers at McDonald's". Being a willing prostitute is only one element of Ami's unusual attitude toward sex. She is also engaged in an intimate relationship with her brother Takuya, a boy who was born with an intellectual disability. According to Ami, having sex with Takuya is "just a variation on the bond between brother and sister", and nothing at all to worry about.

So, where do we find the merit in this adverse plot? Ultimately, it is in Ami's naïveté. Though she may see herself as a worldly woman with a mature attitude toward sex, she is really a frightened girl unhappy with her life. Sex can dull Ami's emotions, but it can also be the conduit through which she expresses herself. Through this expression she does eventually change the course of her life.

However, Ami's twisted thoughts on sex are never resolved. In fact, Innocent World ends with Ami musing that prostitution hardly affected her, only that "there's a little bit of a strange feeling left afterwards, kind of like after you get a buzz off cough syrup." Her relationship with her brother deepens, and Sakurai gives the reader no sign that it will end.

Then again, if Sakurai had completely transfigured her heroine, Innocent World would be less successful. She takes risks in her storytelling, creating a character who is at once enchanting and disconcerting. Sakurai confronts readers with unthinkable situations, and somehow manages to win us over. Despite our reservations, we want more—even if we blush while we admit it.

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