What is happiness? That's a question many of us ask ourselves once we realize it's been eight years since we graduated high school and all we've done in that time is ask strangers if they want fries to go with that shake, but elementary schooler Nanoka Koyanagi gets a jump-start when her teacher assigns her class a project to find out what happiness is and what it means to them. Stumped, she picks the brains of her after-school friends: an old lady, a high schooler who likes cutting herself, and a woman who had the misfortune of being born to parents who named her Skank.
The plot of I Had That Same Dream Again zooms past at the speed of a burning candle. There's drama splashed in here and there, but for the most part, it's just the little miss wandering between her pals' places to munch on cinnamon rolls while discussing last night's Korean soap. When conflict does arise, that's when we get to see the characters flaunt their colors, particularly the little miss.
Stories tend to have trouble writing a convincing child, producing one of two concoctions: either a generic cute-when-it-needs-to-be kid or an adult shaped like a nine-year-old. I Had That Same Dream For the Second Time flexes its literary muscles by writing the nuances of a child without the child herself yet understanding nuance. Nanoka has a simple, straightforward view of the world, often seeing things as black or white, but she's expressive as well, projecting an impish personality onto her kitty cat comrade. Little quirks, such as understanding the concept of a contradiction without knowing the word and repeating her catchphrase “Life is like [insert random household object here]” at regular intervals, sell her as an authentic child, but it kinda ruins that authenticity when she tosses out words like coquettish and summarily. I don't know about you, but when I was ten-years-old, I wasn't able to narrate my life with the style of a Victorian writer.
This is a Yoru Sumino novel, and I've figured out by this point that their trick of the trade is to make things not seem to be what they are. This is done fantastically in I Want to Eat Your Pancreas and At Night, I Become a Monster, but where those twists hit you like a flailing wrecking ball, I Had That Same Dream For the Thousandth Time tries the more subtle method, hinting at the reality before pulling back to unveil what's behind the curtain. It does well enough, but then it gets too cocky in its coyness, holding up a cloth shaped like a stegosaurus rib cage and going, “I wonder what's under this cloth. Could it be a stegosaurus's rib cage, hmmm?” Arrogant as I Had That Same Dream For the Gajillionth Time gets, it does manage to use a much sneered-at trope in a way that doesn't make you wanna splash a dose of napalm on this book.
I Had That Same Dream For the Umpteenth Time is poetic is some senses and has some insightful thoughts and lessons into what happiness is and what it means to a person, but it's one of those stories which straddles that line between mucking things up and blowing expectations out of the water. It's exceptionally unexceptional, and it plays things so safe it's hard to come away with more of an opinion than “It is a thing I read.”