Title: The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi
Author: Nagaru Tanigawa
What it's about: Kyon is an ordinary Japanese high school student. He knows that aliens, time travelers, ghosts, sliders, espers, and the like don't exist. But on high first day of high school, the girl sitting behind him, Suzumiya Haruhi, declares she has no interest in normal humans but that if there are any aliens, time travelers, sliders, or espers, they should come find her. After this, Haruhi joins and quits every club in the school, proclaiming them all to be too boring. Kyon accidentally gives her the idea to create a club of her own to fill the void, and with that the SOS Brigade is born. Along with Kyon, Haruhi recruits Nagato Yuki, a quiet bookworm belonging to the literary club and whose clubroom the SOS Brigade takes over, Asahina Mikuru, a cute upperclassman, and Koizumi Itsuki, a charming transfer student. With these four as her subordinates, Haruhi intends to find mysteries and fun to relieve the boredom of normal life. However, what she doesn't know and what Kyon, our narrator, finds out is that the other three members of the SOS Brigade are more than they seem, as is Haruhi herself.
What I thought: First off, the narration style is quite unique. Kyon has a very interesting way of describing things, using lots of metaphors and references. Another oddity of this is that there are occasional lines of narration and internal monologue that seem to be heard by the other characters. It can be a little confusing at first, but it adds a level of interest once you realize that it's not a mistake. The characters themselves are great. Kyon is a good, normal straight man, and you sympathize for him whenever Haruhi drags him into some stupid situation. Haruhi herself is a really interesting character. Despite being the title character, we don't really get to see what she's thinking at all; we only see what Kyon observes and postulates about her. She's quite a larger-than-life character, though, with her wild stunts, eccentricities, and fancies. You can't help being taken with her for that reason. Asahina-san, Nagato, and Koizumi are also similarly well-developed characters, Asahina-san and Nagato especially. Another point to praise is the development of the plot through this book and the rest of the novels. Despite being mainly full of silliness, there is a surprisingly deep and entertaining plot involving a lot of science-fiction elements. The hidden agendas of Asahina-san, Nagato, and Koizumi are good illustrations of this.
Overall: This book, the rest of the Suzumiya Haruhi novels, and the anime series based on the books are all extremely excellent. Here is where you can find all the Suzumiya Haruhi novels online to read. They've not been translated to English in any official capacity, so fan translations online are all that English-reading fans have. However, the translations are pretty good quality.