I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Publication Date: 01/03/2018
Length: 167 pages
Genre: Translated Fiction | Japanese Fiction | Young Adult
For two teens, falling in love is going to make a world of difference in this beautifully translated, bold, and endearing novel about love, loss, and the pain of racial discrimination.GoodReads
As a Korean student in a Japanese high school, Sugihara has had to defend himself against all kinds of bullies. But nothing could have prepared him for the heartache he feels when he falls hopelessly in love with a Japanese girl named Sakurai. Immersed in their shared love for classical music and foreign movies, the two gradually grow closer and closer.
One night, after being hit by personal tragedy, Sugihara reveals to Sakurai that he is not Japanese—as his name might indicate.
Torn between a chance at self-discovery that he’s ready to seize and the prejudices of others that he can’t control, Sugihara must decide who he wants to be and where he wants to go next. Will Sakurai be able to confront her own bias and accompany him on his journey?
Through reading other novels, I have become aware of the racism faced by Koreans in Japan, so this wasn’t a surprise to me unlike other reviews I’ve seen of the novel. However, what caught my eye about this novel in particular was the Romeo and Juliet-esque take on it, and that it focussed on a teenage boy as the protagonist rather than an adult. So I thought it would be interesting to see this narrative from a different perspective to what I have read previously.
At first I wasn’t sure if I liked Sugihara, whilst I enjoyed the way he would tell his story I just felt like he was a bit of a caricature at first. However, the further I got into the novel, the more I began to like Sugihara and began to realise who he really is as he becomes more sure of himself. Whilst I didn’t quite think him regularly resorting to violence was his best idea, I did begin to understand why Sugihara did this, especially when we saw more of his father.
Similarly, at first I wasn’t sure how I felt about Sakurai. The fact that she seemed to be exactly the same as Sugihara when we first met her was a little repetitive. However, we very quickly saw her personality shine through and complement Sugihara well. Additionally, as I grew to like Sakurai more, I realised that having her so similar to Sugihara was a great way to show how Korean teenagers and Japanese teenagers aren’t as different as people think. Which could then be said for the larger issue of racism in Japan.
Although Sugihara insists at the beginning of the novel that this is his love story, this novel is a lot more than that. As I mentioned, it also gives the reader a fresh perspective on the racism experienced by Koreans in Japan. Kaneshiro demonstrates how important identity is but, at the same time, how complex someone’s identity is and that they’re constantly developing it and learning what theirs is.
Without going into too much detail, as I don’t want to spoil the turning point for Sugihara, I really loved his friendship with one particular character and I thought it was such a great addition to the novel. It gave the novel, and Sugihara, more depth. Up until the chapter of the turning point the pacing seemed a bit rushed but then everything just slowed down and I enjoyed that. The contrast of the pacing, though, was also great and made the event and the aftermath hit harder.
Overall, I enjoyed this novel and felt like it deepened my own understanding of Korea and Japan. I would recommend that you pick this book up and I will be keeping an eye out for what this author does next!