Liliane, the Girl Who Can Speak to Animals, Book 1: A brief review

Hey listen, sometimes you gotta take it easy on the Nihongo. Sometimes you look at some heavy tome and go, “You know what? No. I want some popcorn for my brain.” So, you pop into the library and check out the kids’ section for a light read. And what I found was the series 動物と話せる少女リリアーネ. The original German title for the first book is Liliane Susewind. Mit Elefanten spricht man nicht! by Tanya Stewner.

The story follows the main character, a young girl named–you guessed it–Liliane. Liliane has several secret abilities that come up throughout the first book, but the most important one is the fact that she can talk to animals. Despite speaking in a human language, animals understand and can respond in their own languages back to her (though they often can’t speak to each other if they’re different species!). This is handy when Liliane is in a pinch, but can be trouble when she wants to keep her ability a secret–animals are able to sense that she understands them and seek her out.

In Book 1, she starts up life in a new school and faces the usual difficulties of making friends, dealing with bullies, and figuring out her place in this new situation. Meanwhile, at the local zoo, the elephants are facing troubles and need someone to help them out… and decide Liliane might be the one who can do so. Along the way, she makes friends with a boy named Jeshaja (pronounced like Isaiah) and grows more confident in her abilities.

The story is charming and easy to follow. We’ve all been in situations where we’re uprooted from the familiar and thrust into uncomfortable situations, and Liliane’s reactions to everything around her is completely understandable.

In the future, I want to check out the original German version and compare it against the Japanese translation. Perhaps it’s because the original author is western, but I had no trouble following the plot and I wasn’t surprised by an abrupt ending like I have been in previous Japanese novels.

That said, this was a great book as a vocabulary refresher. I found said vocab helpful when studying for the JLPT. Figuring out the nuance between words like 話す and 話しかける can be the difference between passing and failing that darn test. This book is aimed toward young readers, but if you’re around N3 level I don’t think you’ll have too much trouble following what’s happening. Plenty of furigana abounds, helping introduce vocabulary and kanji that you might still be learning.

What have you read lately?

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