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Don’t Let the Hedgehog Fool You: A Dark Coming-of-Age Story

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Emily Martin

Contributing Editor

Emily has a PhD in English from the University of Southern Mississippi, MS, and she has an MFA in Creative Writing from GCSU in Milledgeville, GA, home of Flannery O’Connor. She spends her free time reading, watching horror movies and musicals, cuddling cats, Instagramming pictures of cats, and blogging/podcasting about books with the ladies over at #BookSquadGoals ( She can be reached at

Welcome to Read This Book, your go-to newsletter if you’re looking to expand your TBR pile. Each week, I’ll recommend a book I think is an absolute must-read. Some will be new releases, some will be old favorites, and the books will vary in genre and subject matter every time. I hope you’re ready to get reading!

This is such a weird book recommendation for me, because I did love this book so much, but I also know it’s not going to be for everyone.

One time, I recommended this book to a new friend the first day I met her. I immediately regretted going so hard with someone I barely knew. What would she think of me? I was worried our friendship would be over before it even began. But then (I think?) she ended up liking it, and guess what? We’re still hanging out. So if you like this book, use it to see if your friends are really cool and can hang with you.

I’m just kidding. Please don’t test people like that. But do read this book, and then you can let me know if we’re still friends.

earthlings book cover

Earthlings by Sayaka Murata, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori

From childhood, Natsuki has felt like she doesn’t belong. Her family openly ridicules her. No one at school understands her. Her teacher takes advantage of her. The only way she can make sense of the world around her is through imagining that she has access to magic, and that she might secretly be an alien from another planet. Then there’s her cousin Yuu. In Yuu, Natsuki feels like she’s found another soul that is an outsider just like she is. But when Yuu and Natsuki are pulled apart, the two make a promise to each other: to survive. No matter what.

Now, Natsuki is an adult, and her feelings of alienation have only grown stronger. She’s married to a man who has zero interest in even touching her. Everyone around her is pressuring her to start a family. Meanwhile, Natsuki is relentlessly haunted by the nightmares of her past.

Natsuki is desperate for an escape from the pressures of adulthood and the expectations of what it means to be a productive member of society. And so she heads to the only place that ever made her feel at home: her family retreat in the mountains of Nagano, far away from the judgmental eyes of her peers. What’s more, she invites Yuu to meet her there. But Yuu comes to Nagano with his own thoughts about how to escape society. Will he be ready to keep his promise to Natsuki? And what will these two be capable of doing when they’re reunited?

This novel, as you might have already gleaned, is dark and disturbing. Content warnings for nearly everything you can think of: cannibalism, incest, sexual assault, murder, trauma, child abuse. This book is anything but an easy read. Like Natsuki, I found myself really clinging on to the more fantastical moments of this novel, hoping for moments of solace amidst the bleakness of what’s happening to our main character. And yet with all of that being said, I could not put Earthlings down. Not for a second.

Earthlings really spoke to me as a heart-breaking narrative of losing oneself in past trauma and feeling suffocated by the expectations of others. While Natsuki’s circumstances are extreme, I think a lot of us (myself included) can identify with those feelings. I also loved that author Sayaka Murata wasn’t afraid of making this story really, really strange. Here, Murata is taking a lot of the themes and ideas from her novel Convenience Store Woman and exploding them into something horrifying and earth-shatteringly unique. So if you read that and thought to yourself, “I wish this main character would just set the world on fire,” Earthlings might be your book. If you love good books, even if they make you super uncomfy, Earthlings might be for you.

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