Emiko Jean is a new-to-me author, but I think after finishing up Tokyo Ever After, I might follow her and the rest of the work she’ll eventually put out. It was such a breath of fresh air especially after such a heavy read, but it also discusses some important topics. The best part is probably the idea of being royalty.
Izumi Tanaka has never really felt like she fit in—it isn’t easy being Japanese American in her small, mostly white, northern California town. Raised by a single mother, it’s always been Izumi—or Izzy, because “It’s easier this way”—and her mom against the world. But then Izzy discovers a clue to her previously unknown father’s identity… and he’s none other than the Crown Prince of Japan. Which means outspoken, irreverent Izzy is literally a princess.
In a whirlwind, Izzy travels to Japan to meet the father she never knew and discover the country she always dreamed of. But being a princess isn’t all ball gowns and tiaras. There are conniving cousins, a hungry press, a scowling but handsome bodyguard who just might be her soulmate, and thousands of years of tradition and customs to learn practically overnight.
Izzy soon finds herself caught between worlds, and between versions of herself—back home, she was never “American” enough, and in Japan, she must prove she’s “Japanese” enough. Will Izumi crumble under the weight of the crown, or will she live out her fairytale, happily ever after?
If you want to read The Princess Diaries meets Crazy Rich Asians, then this is the book for you. I’m not usually one to use comparable titles to explain a book, but these two novels explains this one super well.
Some of the emotions Izumi went through felt exactly like how I would react. I consider myself the secondary character in my life; better suited as the best friend who doesn’t get much action in the plot. So when Izumi described herself the same way and then being thrust into the limelight, it definitely captured the emotions I would be feeling to. I don’t even think “a fish out of water” would cover the level of insecurity and self-consciousness I would have. And yet, Izumi approached this new world she needed to assimilate into with grace. She was poised and while she did make mistakes, they didn’t feel as bad as the onse Mia Thermapolis dealt with.
In fact, Izumi felt like such a realized person. She had insecurities and doubts about herself. She worried about connecting with her estranged father. She freaked out when she knew she made a mistake. I was anticipating her to be stubborn or hard to read because many YA characters feel difficult to relate with, but I definitely related to her.
The depictions of Japan and the addition of Japanese culture was such a treat. I know a fair amount about Japan, but the content Emiko Jean brings up was such a closer look. I didn’t realize that Japan was still a constitutional monarchy! I didn’t know some of the phrases that I hear from Japanese folks so often. It was nice to feel a little immersion into the world and I loved how Izumi handled it as well. There was some discussion about identity and I’m not surprised. As a fellow Asian American, I’ve played the identity dance so often that it was the most relatable part of the story for me. Being split between your two ethnicities when the two worlds are completely opposite each other brings up a lot of self-doubt. It makes you want to side with one part of you and abandon the other. It makes you want to choose the one that’s easier for you. But I loved that she embraced both and wanted to be both and it’s exactly the conclusion I came to for myself.
Of course, the antics in the book felt like you were reading Crazy Rich Asians. While the designer stuff wasn’t as nice as CRA, there was definitely that feeling of being the outsider to a prominent royal family. I imagined this is how Meghan Markle felt when she entered the royal family or even how Rachel from CRA felt when she finally met her fiance’s family. I love that this is another part of the dichotomy of the story; the spotlight and living a normal life. The intrigue was funny, but light. It didn’t really dive deep into this universe but focused more on Izumi’s reactions to it.
The only thing I wasn’t a fan of (and this is entirely personal) is Izumi and her love interest. Yes, I know this is YA and usually with YA books there’s some form of romance, but it wasn’t such a huge focus and honestly it felt more like friendship to me than romance. Then again, many of the folks I dated when I was a teenager felt more like friendship than romance so perhaps I don’t know enough lol.
Overall, such a beautiful story with a great character to follow along with. You’ll be rooting for Izumi and her family and hoping that royalty is everything it was cracked up to be.
Thanks Flatiron Books for the gifted copy of this book. My opinions have not been influenced by the publisher or the author.