Rika Rakuyama hates fairytales—the princesses with their dresses, the knights in shining armor, and most of all, the happy endings. As a bi-racial orphan living in Little Tokyo with her cousins, she feels as though she’s never belonged anywhere and never will. Her fiery temper and judo skills don’t exactly make her “princess” material, and her red hair and mysterious parentage set her apart from the rest of Little Tokyo. As the annual Nikkei Week Festival begins, Rika bumps into the up and coming actor Henry Chen and finds herself swept up in her own fairytale mystery-adventure quest to find her long-lost mother who might just be the celebrated movie star Grace Kimura.
Culture and identity
While the book is something of a rom-com at its core, it also focuses heavily on the experiences of Asian-Americans living in the US. Rika is Japanese-American and struggles with being both not white enough for her peers in school and not Asian enough for the residents of Little Tokyo.
Racism is a huge issue at the moment with many undertones and a long history to explore and unpack. The degree of success at which the book is able to handle the issue might be a whole other debate in and of itself as certain characters tended to be demonized a little unfairly for the sake of the story’s simplicity. In a time where representation and the ways we portray characters are so important, I’m not exactly sure how this would sit with certain people. However, I do think that more books such as this need to make it onto shelves and in the hands of kids and teens who might be struggling with their own culture and identity. From Little Tokyo, with Love doesn’t make groundbreaking realizations or does a deep analysis of the issues it tries to tackle, but attempts to bring these out in a way teens might be able to relate to.
Something like a modern fairytale
Aside from placing bi-racial characters at the forefront, From Little Tokyo, with Love wraps itself around the idea of fairytales and princesses. It’s a bit ironic how we’re introduced to a character who so vehemently rejects the idea of fairytales, but whose life is written just like one.
The clichés honestly grated on me at first—she has a meet-cute with the actor Henry Chen that involves her literally bumping into and falling on top of him like a cheesy shoujo manga. I wasn’t a fan, to say the least. There were other aspects of the book that I felt were also very unrealistic (dialogues where characters knew exactly what essay-like words to say or story loopholes that could be easily unraveled).
While the clichés were almost a little too fairytale-like, I did find myself enjoying the book as the story started to come together. Sarah Kuhn’s writing shines best in her descriptions of Los Angeles and the different places Rika and Henry go to unravel the mystery of her parentage. There were also some heartwarming moments as the book started to close that I could imagine resonating with younger audiences.
If you’re looking for a light and satisfying read that’s of the teenage rom-com type, then From Little Tokyo, with Love might interest you. It’s a book with a healthy smattering of kisses and judo throws, mean racist bullies and wise fairy godmother-like peers, and musings on happy endings—what they really mean and how we take a hold of them for ourselves.