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Review: Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean

Review: Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean

‘Izumi Tanaka has lived an uneventful seventeen years in her small town, keenly aware of all the ways in which her family is different from most of her classmates’. But then Izumi discovers a clue to her previously unknown father’s identity… and he’s none other than the Crown Prince of Japan.

Soon she’s traveling overseas to meet the father she never knew and discover the country she’s only 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?’

Tokyo Ever After is a lovely book with a lot of heart, its dialogue fresh and delightfully real, and while it is a bright and often humorous book, it doesn’t shy away from looking at more serious issues, such as identity, belonging and family. It reads as a fairytale with a hope for a happily ever after from the beginning, which is one of the things that makes it such an enjoyable book and one I would recommend as a perfect summer read.

Izumi’s journey to Japan brings not only her father into her life, but all that being his daughter means, including titles and the need to behave in a particular way in the spotlight, her life suddenly one that is very interesting to a media that is always on the lookout for the most minute of mistakes from the royal family. While her father does have expectations of her, it’s clear from the start that he genuinely cares for Izumi and wants to get to know her – and what’s best for her – and isn’t set on completely transforming her into someone she isn’t. He tries to help her and he is forgiving when she makes mistakes, knowing that she’s trying her best, and ultimately doesn’t want her to leave for any other reason than he would be losing his daughter again. He aims to be a good father even while he’s still learning, and it’s nice to see him and Izumi exploring in what ways their family might not be so typical as expected, and so how their own relationship may not need to be so heavily influenced by protocol and expectations.

This is not to say that the family Izumi meets in Japan is entirely welcoming, for she finds some of them hostile and unyielding when it comes to her identity, determined to prove to her that she isn’t one of them and never will be. However, they are not without troubles of their own and are likewise targets of a media that wants to delight in their failure or suffering. Unfortunately for Izumi, while trying to navigate the politics and relationships of the royalty that is her family, who could be a friend and who might be a foe is never quite clear to her, worried as she is about making bigger mistakes and trying to fit in.

One of the narrative threads that I loved was the idea that Izumi’s father is still in love with her mother and hasn’t ever quite let go of the memory of her. Though he has put his duty to his family and country first, he continues to keep reminders of her close to him, such as the flowers that she loves, and his affection for her is quite clear in what interactions they have. It isn’t that Izumi’s life isn’t full without her parents being together, or that she hasn’t had a proper family, but that her parents might become a couple after so many years apart – time that they have obviously spent still thinking of each other – is another part of the fairytale happy ending that it feels they all deserve. Izumi’s own romance is a sweet story that feels like a natural growing together after moving beyond each other’s defences and finding common ground, and while they may have not known each other for very long, their relationship reads as the beginnings of a solid partnership.

If you’re looking for a modern fairytale with family at its heart and a cast of characters to care for (I hope this isn’t the last we see of them!), Tokyo Ever After should be top of your list for a warm and heartfelt read. Thank you to My Kinda Book for sending me a copy!