Title: From Little Tokyo, With Love
Author: Sarah Kuhn
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
Review Copy: eARC received from publisher
Availability: May 11, 2021
Summary: If Rika’s life seems like the beginning of a familiar fairy tale–being an orphan with two bossy cousins and working away in her aunts’ business–she would be the first to reject that foolish notion. After all, she loves her family (even if her cousins were named after Disney characters), and with her biracial background, amazing judo skills and red-hot temper, she doesn’t quite fit the princess mold.
All that changes the instant she locks eyes with Grace Kimura, America’s reigning rom-com sweetheart, during the Nikkei Week Festival. From there, Rika embarks on a madcap adventure of hope and happiness–searching for clues that Grace is her long-lost mother, exploring Little Tokyo’s hidden treasures with cute actor Hank Chen, and maybe…finally finding a sense of belonging.
But fairy tales are fiction and the real world isn’t so kind. Rika knows she’s setting herself up for disappointment, because happy endings don’t happen to girls like her. Should she walk away before she gets in even deeper, or let herself be swept away?
Review: I love almost-but-not-quite fourth-wall-breaking meta, and FROM LITTLE TOKYO, WITH LOVE is chock-full of commentary on romance and fairy tales and what it might mean when you can’t see yourself starring in either. Rika positions herself as the monster in grimmer fairy tales/folklore (the nure-onna in particular) throughout the book, in contrast to her more princess-like cousins. And while that could have been the setup for the Not Like Other Girls trope, author Sarah Kuhn does a fantastic job of instead making this Rika’s way of trying to sort out who she is and where she (thinks she) fits in the world.
Rika is a fantastic protagonist, and her fierce love for her family is one of the many great things about her. I found myself rooting for her at every turn (and especially when she was angry). I thoroughly enjoyed following Rika on her search for her long-lost mother and her whirlwind romance with Hank. And it is a whirlwind—the entire book takes place during the Nikkei Week Festival. Despite the compressed time frame, neither the search nor the romance feels rushed. Both move quickly, but every step forward makes sense and frequently provides opportunities to develop characters.
Rika and Hank are great partners in this book, and FROM LITTLE TOKYO, WITH LOVE gave them both space to rescue and to need rescuing (and pointed it out, much to my delight). It’s always lovely when a book digs deep into characters’ backstories and motivations and provides ample opportunity to convince you that they are attracted to one another. I also believed it when they fought or disagreed—and more importantly, when they opened up to each other and allowed themselves to be vulnerable. I particularly enjoyed the scenes at the library and the park, which really sold me on Rika and Hank’s relationship.
In addition to Hank, there are several other fantastic characters in Rika’s orbit, like Rika’s aunts and cousins, plus some smaller roles like the various players in Asian Hollywood and Little Tokyo. The world of FROM LITTLE TOKYO, WITH LOVE feels large and lived in, both at its high points and in its lows. This is a book that has a lot to say about identity and belonging, and much of that is examined through family/community secrets and prejudices. More importantly, this book also has a lot to say about what can happen when a family/community bands together against those negative influences. I appreciated not only where Rika and Hank’s relationship ended up by the conclusion of the book, but also where they took their family, friends, and communities.
Recommendation: Pre-order it now if contemporary romances are your thing. FROM LITTLE TOKYO, WITH LOVE is a fast-paced romance starring engaging characters and set in a well-developed world. Beyond the romance, the book also dives deep into what it means to belong and how to find (or make) a place in your family and community. I’m looking forward to Sarah Kuhn’s future projects.