by Ashley Dickson-Ellison (@teachingtheapocalypse)
I just finished Emiko Jean'sTokyo Dreaming (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm), book 2 in this series, which I devoured on audio all in one sitting. (Yes, I was also driving across several states at the time, which I've done a lot of this summer. The book was a great driving companion!) Listening to Book 2 reminded me of all of the things I absolutely love about this brilliant YA lit romance series. But I don't want to spoil anything from Book 1, so for today's review, I am circling back to Book 1, Emiko Jean's Tokyo Ever After (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm), which we read as an Unabridged buddy read pick in February of this year.
Tokyo Ever After centers on Izumi Tanaka, a Japanese American teenager living in Mount Shasta, a small town in northern California. Izumi, who goes by Izzy because it's "easier" for her mostly white community, struggles to find her place and is unsure about her identity and her future.
But Izumi has a stellar group of friends, one of my favorite aspects of the series, and they have all sorts of adventures. One of her friends, in an effort to help Izumi find her way, starts digging into Izumi's paternal side of her family. For Izumi's whole life, it has only been her and her mom, and her mother had always refused to share anything at all about Izumi's father. But as her friend discovers through some sleuthing, Izumi's father is none other than the crown prince of Japan.
As you might imagine, chaos ensues. But it is fun chaos, and Izumi's life drastically changes as she travels to Japan for the first time and enters a life entirely unlike anything she has ever known.
“I don't have an American half and a Japanese half. I am a whole person. Nobody gets to tell me if I am Japanese enough or too American.”
One of the things I love most is the way Emiko Jean showcases and celebrates Japan as a country and Japanese culture throughout this series. Japanese speakers will appreciate the way she weaves the language into the series as Izumi learns to communicate, and the books are full of nuances that nod toward the precise cultural aspects of Japan that make it the unique, beautiful country that it is. Through Izumi, Jean explores the longstanding traditions such as the monarchy with a critical lens while still honoring the heritage that brings Japan to where it is in the modern world.
I'm all in on this series. Full of romance, adventure, and the giddiness that comes with discovering a new world, I found these books to be simply joyful. But Jean does not gloss over the more complicated aspects of Izumi's journey as she struggles to find her place and to understand herself and the world around her.
Richly drawn and full of joy, this series is a must read for teens and adults alike.
“You are a world unto yourself. Build your own space. One meant uniquely for you.”
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