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 and 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?
*I received an ARC of this book via NetGalley and Flat Iron Books in exchange for an honest review*
Tokyo Ever After is a fun and quirky young adult contemporary which takes us right along on a life changing journey with Izumi, our protagonist who is a long lost princess. As soon as I read that this book was compared to The Princess Diaries I knew I had to read it because that series was one of my absolute favourites of all time and still holds such a special place in my heart. While Tokyo Ever After has shades of PD, Emiko Jean takes the ‘unknown princess’ concept and makes it her own.
One of my favourite things about the novel has to be the journey that Izumi goes on throughout the course of the novel. When we first meet her, she’s pretty content with her life and she has a group of close friends, a supportive mom and some direction in life in terms of her future but she still feels like something is lacking. It all stems from the father she’s never known and also her Japanese heritage which she doesn’t feel connected to.
I liked how this story evolved and how Izumi starts getting to know her dad and learn more about her culture and feeling like she does belong and learns her family history. I think Jean touches upon something so important with this thread – the idea of roots, of knowing where you come from and feeling comfortable in yourself and who you are. Especially since Izumi comes from a primarily white town, her experience as a Japanese American has been fraught with racist interactions and micro-aggressions at the hands of her white peers as well as the disconnect from her heritage following her grandparents deaths. I think many readers will be able to connect and empathise with Izumi as she goes through the journey of self actualisation and identity.
Another element of the book I appreciated was the friendships between Izumi and her three best friends – Noora, Glory and Hansani who have dubbed themselves the AGG (Asian Girl Gang). I loved how these four girls, all women of colour too, banded together and formed such a bond and were the true definition of ride or dies. Strong female friendships are some of my favourite things in fiction and I think Jean writes this so wonderfully and makes it so convincing and real in the story. I would definitely have liked to see her friends be more developed and have more time with them though.
I much preferred the friendships in the novel over the romantic plotline which was a shame, since I’m usually a sucker for romance. I felt like it was kind of insta-lovey and there wasn’t much development when it came to Izumi and Akio’s relationship, other than a physical attraction. It wasn’t clear to me why exactly they started falling for each other and I think they needed more page time to really build the chemistry and make me believe in them. Akio is certainly the epitome of the brooding handsome love interest but it just wasn’t enough to make me root for them as a couple unfortunately.
At times, the story does feel a tad rushed and the pacing is off because there are times when little to nothing happens and other points where things happen in rapid succession. I also think tying in with the pacing issue is the fact that although there’s drama recurring and events that are meant to have significant emotional impact, it didn’t feel well developed enough for it to really have the gravity it was supposed to and it fell so flat. It was unfortunate that this was the case because with some more development or time, it could have achieved the desired effect and been even more powerful.
Overall, Tokyo Ever After is a sweet Y/A contemporary which I think many readers will enjoy- from the romance, to the exploration of Asian American identity and cultural heritage, there will be something for everyone. Despite some of the issues I had with the novel, making it more of a one time read for me, I think there will be readers out there who will find it more enjoyable, different strokes for different folks and all.
Until next time,