Everyone, please welcome Sarah Kuhn to Rich in Color! Sarah’s first YA novel, I LOVE YOU SO MOCHI, is out today, and we’re thrilled to have Sarah here to talk about it. If you’re looking to add a cute contemporary romance to your summer TBR list, start here!
Kimi Nakamura loves a good fashion statement. She’s obsessed with transforming everyday ephemera into Kimi Originals: bold outfits that make her and her friends feel brave, fabulous, and like the Ultimate versions of themselves. But her mother sees this as a distraction from working on her portfolio paintings for the prestigious fine art academy where she’s been accepted for college. So when a surprise letter comes in the mail from Kimi’s estranged grandparents, inviting her to Kyoto for spring break, she seizes the opportunity to get away from the disaster of her life.
When she arrives in Japan, she loses herself in Kyoto’s outdoor markets, art installations, and cherry blossom festival–and meets Akira, a cute med student who moonlights as a costumed mochi mascot. What begins as a trip to escape her problems quickly becomes a way for Kimi to learn more about the mother she left behind, and to figure out where her own heart lies.
I LOVE YOU SO MOCHI is your first YA novel. What were you most excited about writing for teens?
I love writing characters experiencing firsts, those amazing moments that give you that tingly sense of possibility, that feeling of your whole world opening up — first kisses, first trips to another country, first time facing a total existential crisis about your life. To be fair, a lot of my adult characters experience many firsts as well (as do I as an actual supposedly adult person)! But Kimi in particular gets to have maybe the most firsts of any character I’ve ever written — she’s someone who’s initially kind of scared of big new experiences, so writing her having all of those experiences and realizing that so much excitement and wonder can come out of them was a total joy. And maybe a good lesson/reminder for my adult self.
Kimi sounds like fun! Tell us more about her fashionista ways and her friends.
She is fun! In my totally unbiased opinion. It’s no secret that I’m obsessed with clothes and fashion — I love bright colors and patterns and experimenting with putting different outfit combinations together. Basically, I still worship at the shrine of my original idol, Claudia Kishi from The Baby-Sitters Club. But I’m really bad at sewing, mending, or anything that requires patience, so I thought it would be fun to create a character who shares my love of fashion but is also really excellent at sewing and makes all her own outfits. She’s kind of like a fantasy version of myself, with an added sewing superpower. And then of course she has her own Girl Gang, because all my books have Girl Gangs — her best friends are Atsuko, who writes a dating advice column (even though Atsuko is actually very cynical about love in all its forms), and Bex, who is dreamy and idealistic and wears cute dresses with mermaids on them. They’re a fun trio.
It sounds like Kimi and her (extended) family are having some difficulties in I LOVE YOU SO MOCHI. Can you tell us more about Kimi and her relationships with her mom and grandparents?
Kimi is extremely close with her mom, who came to the States from Japan for college and ended up staying there when she fell in love with Kimi’s dad, who is fourth generation Japanese American. Her relationship with her mom mirrors the one I had with mine — her mom knows her better than anyone and they kind of love each other more than anyone…but that also means they have the potential to hurt each other more than anyone. The grandparents in the book are Kimi’s mom’s parents — Kimi’s never met them because they disapproved of Mom’s choice to stay in the States. But they invite Kimi to visit them in Kyoto over Spring Break and after a huge fight with Mom, Kimi accepts. And as she gets to know her grandparents, she realizes there’s a lot more to her mother’s story than she realized. I really loved writing about three generations of powerful Japanese/Japanese American women. I wanted their relationships with each other to be prickly and not always perfect, but with so much love underneath.
I went to Kyoto a few years ago and loved it. Why did you decide to set I LOVE YOU SO MOCHI there?
Kyoto contains so many beautiful sights I wanted to write about: Fushimi Inari Taisha, the amazing shrine with those bright red-orange torii gates; the Arashiyama bamboo grove; Maruyama Park with all those glorious cherry blossoms. All of these were things I thought would inspire Kimi as an artist and budding fashion designer. I’d also read somewhere that Kyoto is a place for people who are passionate about making things, and that seemed perfect for Kimi and her grandmother, who also loves sewing and creating clothes. I loved including more obscure locations that got to the heart of that “making things” idea, like Misuyabari, this tiny, family-run needle shop that’s like 400 years old and sells these incredible handmade needles and sewing supplies. Oh, and finally, Kyoto has a pug cafe — which ended up being a very necessary location.
Can you introduce us to Akira and tell us a little bit about what draws Kimi to him?
Akira is an aspiring med student who moonlights as a costumed mochi mascot at his uncle’s mochi stand. Kimi meets him because he’s doing this ridiculous dance, trying to attract customers, and she laughs too loud and he gets distracted and falls over. It’s probably the cutest meet-cute I’ve written. At first, let’s be honest, she’s drawn to him because he’s hot. But he also has this interesting quality about him that’s very attractive to her — he’s a weird combination of seriousness and goofiness, like he never gives anything less than 100 percent, but he also has a tendency toward dorky jokes that surprise her and make her laugh. Also, he takes her to Japanese McDonald’s, which is very romantic.
What 2019 YA books by or about people of color or people from First/Native Nations are you looking forward to reading?
So many! At the moment, I’m super stoked for OUR WAYWARD FATE by Gloria Chao — AMERICAN PANDA made me die both laughing and crying, so I can’t wait to read her new one. And WICKED FOX by Kat Cho — I’m always hungry for contemporary fantasy/romance starring women of color and this sounds absolutely perfect.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about I LOVE YOU SO MOCHI?
I already mentioned the pug cafe, right? I mean, there are a lot of cute animals and delicious food. Be prepared for that going in!
Thank you for stopping by, Sarah! We’re looking forward to your book.
Sarah Kuhn is the author of the popular Heroine Complex novels—a series starring Asian American superheroines. The first book is a Locus bestseller, an RT Reviewers’ Choice Award nominee, and one of the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog’s Best Books of 2016. Her YA debut, the Japan-set romantic comedy I Love You So Mochi, comes out in June 2019. Additionally, she is currently working on a graphic novel about Batgirl Cassandra Cain for DC Comics. Sarah also wrote “The Ruby Equation” for the Eisner-nominated comics anthology Fresh Romance and the novella One Con Glory, which is in development as a feature film. Other projects include a comic book continuation of the cult classic movie Clueless, a series of Barbie comics, and a story in the recent Jem and the Holograms anthology series Dimensions. Additionally, Sarah is a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Her non-fiction has appeared in The Toast, The Mary Sue, Uncanny Magazine, AngryAsianMan.com, IGN.com, The Hollywood Reporter, StarTrek.com, and the Hugo-nominated anthology Chicks Dig Comics.