From Little Tokyo, with Love
Author: Sarah Kuhn
Narrator: Emily Woo Zeller
Publication Date: 11 May 2021
Genre: YA – Contemporary
Length: 10 hours 19 minutes
Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio
Celebrated author Sarah Kuhn reinvents the modern fairy tale in this intensely personal yet hilarious novel of a girl whose search for a storybook ending takes her to unexpected places in both her beloved LA neighborhood and her own guarded heart.
If Rika’s life seems like the beginning of a familiar fairy tale–being an orphan with two bossy cousins and working away in her aunts’ business–she would be the first to reject that foolish notion. After all, she loves her family (even if her cousins were named after Disney characters), and with her biracial background, amazing judo skills and red-hot temper, she doesn’t quite fit the princess mold.
All that changes the instant she locks eyes with Grace Kimura, America’s reigning rom-com sweetheart, during the Nikkei Week Festival. From there, Rika embarks on a madcap adventure of hope and happiness–searching for clues about her long-lost mother, exploring Little Tokyo’s hidden treasures with a cute actor, and maybe…finally finding a sense of belonging.
But fairy tales are fiction and the real world isn’t so kind. Rika knows she’s setting herself up for disappointment, because happy endings don’t happen to girls like her. Should she walk away before she gets in even deeper, or let herself be swept away?
Why is it always the books that absolutely tear me apart in the best possible way that I have the hardest time trying to review?
This was my first book by Sarah Kuhn and needless to say, it will not be my last.
Rika has always been an outsider. She’s half-white in the majority Japanese American community of Little Tokyo in Los Angeles. Following the her mother’s death in childbirth, Rika was raised by her aunts. Rika is unlike her sisters (cousins). She has a propensity for anger, which has been attributed to her white father and has given Rika the reputation of being difficult and not Japanese enough.
During the renowned Nikkei Week Festival, Rika (literally) runs into the famous Japanese American sweetheart Grace Kimura, who she realizes may actually be her mother…damn those aunties and their lies! With the help of Grace’s co-star Henry (also biracial: Filipino and Chinese), Rika decides to uncover the truth about her mother and track her down.
I LOVED Rika’s character. Yes, she’s been labeled as angry and difficult, which is at odds with traditional Japanese culture as the author addresses. But let’s be honest, she knew virtually nothing of her parents and being biracial automatically puts you as an outsider. As someone who also is biracial, Rika’s anger and pain was so much of what I endured throughout my life. Rika is too Asian to be white, and too white to be fully appreciated by the Japanese American community.
I also loved that the love interest in this book was biracial but differed from Rika. Henry is Filipino and Chinese he touches on the complications that exist even when you have two cultures within the same race such as colorism (love when the colorism issue is on page…so freaking important!). Henry is a cinnamon roll after my own heart. His public image comes off as a bit self absorbed, but as you get to know him and his circumstances, you realize that there’s more to Henry than what’s on the surface.
One of the other things that I loved in this book is the way queerness within the Japanese American community is addressed by the author. Rika’s aunts are lesbian and have been together for decades. While their queerness has been begrudgingly accepted (for reasons), that isn’t to say that they did not struggle to be accepted in Little Tokyo. Furthermore, one of Rika’s sisters is pansexual, and she faces a lot of the same prejudices as her mothers.
I could honestly keep gushing about this book. I didn’t even get to all of the adventures that Rika and Henry embark on while looking for Grace, but I’m just going to stop here.
This book is incredible, and y’all really just need to read it. And if you’re a crier, have the tissues on deck.
Thank you to Penguin Random House Audio for providing an advanced listening copy. This did not influence my review. All opinions.
Grab your copy of From Little Tokyo, with Love here!
Sarah Kuhn is the author of the popular Heroine Complex novels—a series starring Asian American superheroines. The first book is a Locus bestseller, an RT Reviewers’ Choice Award nominee, and one of the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog’s Best Books of 2016. Her YA debut, the beloved Japan-set romantic comedy I Love You So Mochi, is a Junior Library Guild selection and a nominee for YALSA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults. She has also penned a variety of short fiction and comics, including the critically acclaimed graphic novel Shadow of the Batgirl for DC Comics and the Star Wars audiobook original Doctor Aphra. Her newest novel, From Little Tokyo, With Love—a modern fairy tale with a half-Japanese heroine—is due out in May 2021. Additionally, she was a finalist for both the CAPE (Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment) New Writers Award and the Astounding Award for Best New Writer. A third generation Japanese American, she lives in Los Angeles with her husband and an overflowing closet of vintage treasures.