I can't quite decide if Brave Story is a children's/young adult book or an adult book. Being a Japanese novel (no, I did not read it in Japanese) it had more adult themes than you might find in a young adult novel in the US or Britain, but at the same time, they weren't SO adult that they would be out of the realm of possibility that they were for young adults. Sort of Judy Blume meets Harry Potter. Perhaps it was the collision of realistic themes with a fantasy story. The first third of the book is a pretty straightforward description of being an 11 year old (what is it with 11--Aang in Avatar is 11, Harry Potter was 11 when it began) in Japan with a fairly strict, traditional family.
Then Wataru's home life collapses and he gets the opportunity to go to Vision, an alternate world to find the gemstones, meet the Goddess and change his destiny. He is racing against another boy from his school, one who is faster and smarter than he is. He makes friends, has adventures and staggers through. And he faces deep ethical dilemma's that all heroes have to face. Do we stop and help those around us because it's the good thing to do, even though it will mean possibly sacrificing our own quest. It's fairly obvious early on that Wataru is going to make good decisions and his opponent is going to be ruthless in his pursuit, and that it will seem that Wataru must loose because he isn't as determined. And he will realize that his destiny is his destiny--what makes him who he is--all the bad things shape our character and without them, we'd face other bad things. Nobody makes it through unscathed, yet that's who we are, battle scarred and still standing. So in the end he does not change his own destiny, he uses his gift from the Goddess to help his friends.
Like I said, all of this is fairly predictable in the genre, and yet despite the flat translation (a condition of all Japanese to English, I believe, not a lapse on the part of the translators), I found myself deeply compelled to keep reading all 800 pages. Whether this is just to see how the Japanese mindset might wrap it up in contrast to Rowling or because it was good, I'm not actually sure. Along the way there was much to be said about fanaticism and blind faith and good intentions.
I am always intrigued by the Japanese approach to these subjects in light of their history. I also caught the FMA movie recently and it came down squarely against the Nazi's. Of course, but I am intrigued by it.