Convenience Store Woman – Book Review

Book Rating: ★★★☆☆   (3.5 / 5 stars)
Audio Book Performance: ★★★★☆  (4 / 5 Stars)
Total Rating: ★★★☆☆  (3.5 / 5 stars)

Keiko Furukura has never quite fit in anywhere. At the age of eighteen, she finally finds a purpose as a convenience store worker though. For years, she has worked there, but as she reaches the age of thirty-six, so many of her peers have moved on in life – getting married, having kids, having careers, and succeeding where she has not. Keiko doesn’t understand why everyone keeps pushing their life style upon her: she’s happy. Isn’t that all that matters? Or is there more to life than the convenience store?

In a heartwarming tale that investigates a neurodivergent psyche, we enter Keiko’s world. She puts on the persona of a convenience store worker, a persona that makes her happy and where she can blend in without much of a problem. This confuses many people, and even her sister tries to transform her into something she is not. More than anything though, Keiko feels the stress of change approaching on her doorsteps.

Convenience Store Woman does a remarkable job not only examining the peculiarities of society, but also the difficulty a neurodivergent individual when navigating society. While Japan has different ideals than America or Europe, Keiko’s experience is universal. She struggles to understand social cues or requirements, and when she finds something she is good at, she sticks with it for a long time (such as her job at the Convenience Store). In a way, the Convenience Store offers her something of normalcy: she learns how to copy their actions, how to exist in their world, and how to pretend to be a “normal” person. But society belittled Keiko. Why? She doesn’t pass up as a normal human-being.

By placing us straight into Keiko’s mind, we are given a chance to see how this behavior impacts individuals like her. This is fundamental to creating a stronger, and better, society: understand that not everyone will fill the “roles” perpetually assigned.

Yet, while Keiko’s insights are so important to our understanding, the narrative dragged (and it’s already a short book). It has persistent commentary on the issues at large in society, often being repeated in circles by multiple characters. At times, I found myself trying to hurry along these moments. Yes, these repeats might be a good point for Keiko’s character, showing her fixation on the Convenience Store and the topics, but in a way, this might have been better as a short story.

That being said, the story is bound to stick with me. Convenience Store Woman is an important look at atypical individuals…and gives us a chance to see them as human. They just fill a different role than us, but if they’re happy, then we should be happy too.

What’s it about?

The English-language debut of one of Japan’s most talented contemporary writers, selling over 650,000 copies there, Convenience Store Woman is the heartwarming and surprising story of thirty-six-year-old Tokyo resident Keiko Furukura. Keiko has never fit in, neither in her family, nor in school, but when at the age of eighteen she begins working at the Hiiromachi branch of “Smile Mart,” she finds peace and purpose in her life. In the store, unlike anywhere else, she understands the rules of social interaction―many are laid out line by line in the store’s manual―and she does her best to copy the dress, mannerisms, and speech of her colleagues, playing the part of a “normal” person excellently, more or less. Managers come and go, but Keiko stays at the store for eighteen years. It’s almost hard to tell where the store ends and she begins. Keiko is very happy, but the people close to her, from her family to her coworkers, increasingly pressure her to find a husband, and to start a proper career, prompting her to take desperate action…

A brilliant depiction of an unusual psyche and a world hidden from view, Convenience Store Woman is an ironic and sharp-eyed look at contemporary work culture and the pressures to conform, as well as a charming and completely fresh portrait of an unforgettable heroine.

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