“It seems the tighter I try to hold on, the more things slip through my fingers. It is a reminder to me of how impermanent life is.”
Mika Suzuki’s life is a mess. She’s 35 and has just been laid off from her paralegal job. She’s living with her best friend but still can’t make ends meet. She is an absolute disappointment to her traditional Japanese parents. Her last relationship ended in flames. Mika is at her lowest when she gets a call from her daughter Penny – the daughter she gave up for adoption 16 years ago. Penny wants to get to know her birth mother and Mika is determined to be a woman who daughter would be proud of. Mika spends the entire month talking to her daughter and making up the perfect life for herself – the perfect career, the perfect romantic relationship, and even the perfect house. As the lies snowball into a fully fledged fake life and Penny decides to come visit Mika in Portland with her adoptive widower dad, Thomas Calvin, Mika must figure out a way to keep up with her lies while forming a relationship with her daughter.
I really liked all the family dynamics portrayed in this story especially the one between Mika and her mother. Mika and her parents have a very difficult relationship where she has never felt understood. Her parents being immigrants has shaped a lot of their experiences and has made it hard for them to understand each other. Their relationship involves church, her parents trying to introduce her to eligible Japanese men and Mika asking them for loans which she always promises to pay back but never does. I like how the author portrayed Mika’s mother as complex instead of demonizing her as an absolutely bad mother. She was just a woman who was limited in her world view and moved to a country she didn’t want to be in in the first place and then was saddled with a daughter who didn’t want the traditional path to success her parents had set out for her to follow. I enjoyed reading about her experiences and what made her into the person she was today.
I didn’t expect this book to grab me as much as it did. Sure, there’s romance in it and a few spicy scenes but that is not all this book is about. The romance lends a certain layer of lightness to this story that would have otherwise been depressing. The relationship between Mika and Penny’s adoptive father, Thomas comes across very organic and believable. The relationship Penny and Mika build throughout the book was so well done to me. Seeing Penny being accepted into Mika’s family and beginning to explore her Asian identity was very touching. This book explores interracial adoptions and some of the pitfalls. Even though Penny’s adoptive parents tried to expose her to Asian culture, their whiteness still gave them a lot of racial blind spots.
I really enjoyed this book. Are there some aspects that felt predictable? Sure. But it explores so many topics and does them in a nuanced way. I really recommend this book. I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads.