Saturday, April 27, 2019

My Almost Flawless Tokyo Dream Life Rachel Cohn - OPTIONAL

Language: R (63 swears, 38 Fs); Mature Content: PG-13 kids drinking and smoking, attempted sexual assault; Violence: PG



When Elle arrives home on her 16th birthday after another pretty horrible day at school, she’s met by an unexpected sight: her caseworker and Uncle Masa, a friend of her mom’s that Elle hadn’t seen since her mom’s descent into drug addiction. The news Uncle Masa delivers is even more unexpected, however. Elle’s father has sent for her to come live with him in Tokyo instead of remaining in foster care. Elle doesn’t even know her dad’s name, let alone anything about him, but the offer of a stable, comfortable place to live convinces Elle to take a chance. She’s whisked away and after her first ever flight, she meets her dad, Kenji Takahara, a famous and fabulously wealthy hotel and real estate developer. His job means that Elle will be living in a penthouse on the 49th floor of the flagship hotel property. Their first meeting is awkward, but Elle is willing to give it a shot because anything is better than foster care. After a couple of days, Elle goes to her new school, an international school full of kids from around the world. She meets Imogen, the queen bee of the school and a hafu (half-Japanese) like Elle who introduces her to all the “right” people at school. Elle immediately likes her school and understands that this could be her ticket to a successful life. Over the next few months, Elle settles in at school and learns about life in Japan. She feels like a fish out of water, but Imogen is there to help her navigate her new life. Getting to know Kenji and his family proves to be quite a bit more difficult and Elle wonders if her haughty grandma will ever accept her. After a few months, just as Elle feels like she’s getting the hang of life in Japan, things start to fall apart and Elle’s new life looks in jeopardy, but Elle is determined to make this new life a success. 

In the end, this book kind of annoyed me. It ended up being formulaic, predictable, and felt like it didn’t really know what it wanted to be. Did it want to be a fun little story about learning to live a new life in a new place or did it want to be a serious book that dealt with serious issues like addiction, sexual assault, and racism? I enjoyed the first 2/3s of the book when it was a fairly light story about the adventure of moving to a new country and discovering a new culture. It was nothing special, but it was kind of fun to discover what life is like in Japan along with Elle. I was encouraged by the possibilities introduced in the early parts of the story and waited the whole book for them to be developed, only to be disappointed.  But then the last 1/3rd of the book introduced a whole load of serious issues and obstacles for Elle to overcome in her new life. Any one of these could have made for a really interesting and thoughtful book, but they just felt chucked in for effect. For example, one of the boys at Elle’s school tries to force himself on her, but when Elle tells her friends, they don’t believe it and nothing is ever done about it. This could have opened up a good opportunity to examine sexual assault and consent, but it never gets developed. All of these storylines get neatly tied up in the end, a little too conveniently for my taste. If the story was supposed to deal with important issues, I think they should have been introduced earlier and examined in depth in order for it to actually matter. 

Reviewer: Andrea R

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