There will be spoilers for the novel or novel series Salad Days.
Trigger Warning: There may be references to bullying as it appears in the novel or novel series.
Jiang Shen is a poor boy in a rural village. He spends his days playing with friends out in the rice paddy fields, helping his father work the fields, chasing wild chickens, and fishing. The most time he ever spends in the city is when his mother takes the vegetable harvest to sell. While his mother is busy in the city, Jiang Shen usually spends his time exploring the Children's Center, where he stumbles upon a ballet class. The teacher catches him looking and invites him in, where she discovers he may have an innate talent for ballet. It isn't long before Jiang Shen's focus goes from his idyllic village days to something much larger and grander.
On the other end of the spectrum is Bai Jinyi. He comes from a filthy rich family and wants for nothing. He spends his days training at the Children's Center in boxing, with his goal being to go international and win the gold belt. However, while attending training one day, an unusual sight catches his eye: a little boy among a gaggle of girls in a ballet class. Inexplicably, Bai Jinyi becomes drawn to this little boy, and for once in his life, Jiang Shen is the one thing he wants, even more than boxing.
They say the rich never box and the poor never dance. Yet, Jiang Shen and Bai Jinyi are set to defy those odds. As the two grow and change and their dreams grow more and more focused, the one thing that keeps them tethered together is their growing feelings for each other. So, can these happy days continue for two boys whose paths would never have crossed otherwise? And can they grasp their dreams while holding onto each other?
This has left me “speechless.” I am truly at a “loss for words.” For those who have not read this yet, those are probably the two most used words and phrases you will see throughout this novel. I don't say that as a complaint. It is honestly very endearing, and while I wouldn't say this is perfectly written by any means, I am happy to say it is leaps and bounds better in terms of prose quality than The Missing Piece. There are still plenty of moments where the dialogue is awkward or the exposition is choppy, but it is solid nonetheless. Is it a masterpiece of literature? No, but it is light and well-written enough. I really wish this had been my first danmei, as this was a much better experience.
Now, for the story itself. This is probably one of the most wholesome things I have read in a long time. It's a story about two boys from entirely different worlds, which would usually cause them to face hardship and discrimination that would ultimately force them apart. However, it is actually the complete opposite. They face little conflict focused on their relationship, which is super refreshing. Instead, they have the support of their parents, their peers, and support from each other, which allows their love and companionship to blossom unhindered. As someone who typically reads things full of darkness and pain, having this lightness cut through was something I didn't know I needed, but I am so glad I got to experience it. Jiang Shen, in particular, is precious. His openness and bright disposition draw you in immediately.
Something I pondered over endlessly was the meaning of the title. Salad Days is a unique title to say the least. Reflecting on it now, I imagine it has to do with the freshness and crispness of youth. That sounds super corny now that I've typed it out, but that's what comes to mind when pairing that title with this story. The story is really about Jiang Shen and Bai Jinyi in their youth, learning about themselves, achieving their dreams, and rooting for the other to do the same. It is as crisp and refreshing as a salad. Laugh all you want at my poor attempt at explaining myself and the meaning behind the title.
The only negative thing I can really think to mention is how the characters' ages are explained, which I believe is more on me than the series itself. I am not familiar with the difference between the traditional age system of China and the Western age system. Even after looking it up, I am not sure that I still fully understand it, so when age was mentioned in Salad Days, I often found myself lost as to what age the characters actually were and how much time had actually passed. But, again, that is entirely on me, not on the story itself. Thankfully, they mentioned grade levels for schooling and competitions with specific age requirements, which helped clarify my confusion. However, I feel that the characters often acted much older than their age would typically represent. They are minors through almost the entirety of the series, but there were times I completely forgot that because of how mature they acted.
Needless to say, I really enjoyed this, and for anyone who has never read a danmei, I highly recommend this one. It is light, airy, and well-translated for the most part. It's not perfect by any means, but it is an excellent entry for someone who isn't familiar. I did mark this as mature, but the sexy time is limited to the side stories and a scene or two toward the end. However, it is not gratuitous and focuses on the two characters' emotional growth. So if you don't mind a drop of sexy time when 98% of the story is just wholesome and heartwarming, then I don't imagine you will be bothered by this.
This is very much a warm cup of tea on a cold, snowy night. It is a balm for the burnt soul. I'll probably think of this fondly from time to time, remembering all the fuzzy moments it brought to my nights as I was reading through it. However, something that really pushed me to read this is that there is now a manhua officially licensed and released on Tapas, which I will most certainly be reading and reviewing when the time comes. I look forward to more crisp and refreshing Salad Days to come.
Have you read Salad Days? If so, what do you think? Do you agree with my assessment? Do you not? Let me know, and comment below!