And it wasn’t fair of me to expect it to be
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Before we begin, I should get two things out in the open.
One, I spent the majority of my teens reading and rereading all that Meg Cabot had on offer.
And two, the Disney film based on — ahem, loosely inspired by — The Princess Diaries is one of my favorite nostalgic self-care movies.
So, when I read the synopsis for Emiko Jean’s Tokyo Ever After, I couldn’t help but think to myself — oh my goodness, a modern day, Japanese-American twist on Princess Diaries!
This is, of course, no small part the result of comp-title marketing, which forever tells us that x book is “the new y.” A formula for disappointment, really, since no book is ever “the new” version of another book. It is always a new book that may or may not have some relationship to or inspiration by the other book.
It was with those expectations that I ordered a gorgeous hardcover copy of this book from Half Price Books, and with that frame of reference that I began reading.
And of course, this was neither reasonable or fair of me to put upon a book. After all, no one but Meg Cabot is Meg Cabot, and no one but Mia Thermopolis is Mia Thermopolis.
Had I gone into the book allowing for Princess Izumi to walk free of the shadow of Mia Thermopolis I had unfairly pushed upon her, I might have liked it better. Nevertheless, here we are. With this caveat, let’s proceed to the review!
As I started Tokyo Ever After, I was thrilled at the prospect of seeing the “sudden princess” trope reimaged in our current times, with the added layer that our protagonist is Japanese-American.
Yet I felt a certain… familiarity in the references Izumi and her friends made. Perhaps too much familiarity? I double-checked the dates of the press releases that interweave in the pages, giving us insight into the media presentation of the new royal. Sure enough, they claimed 2021 as their dates.
I will admit perhaps I just don’t know what references kids these days should be making, but I kept feeling distracted by how much they sounded like… well, millennials.
This pulled me out of the book a bit, even as I enjoyed watching Izumi’s friends help her unearth the truth that her father was, in fact, the Crown Prince of Japan.
From there, the plot advances quite rapidly, with Izumi reaching out to her father and being invited to travel to Japan to meet him and be introduced to society as their unexpected crown princess.
This is where things get interesting, as we see Izumi struggle to understand the culture that is her heritage, but so different from her upbringing in America.
I enjoyed this aspect of the book the most, watching Izumi navigate her expectations about finally feeling like she belongs in a country where everyone will look like her… only to realize that while she looks Japanese, she has been raised American, and feels like she will never fully fit into either world.
And then, there’s the romance. I adore a good romance, particularly a forbidden one like this book features, and yet… the pacing of this relationship felt a bit off to me, like the love story was a bit tossed in where it didn’t need to be.
Though the book is by no means short, I felt that it could have given a bit more space to developing the relationship between our hero and heroine, or (and I can’t believe that I, great lover of love, am saying this) left out in lieu of the already challenging struggles of Izumi acclimating to the culture of the Japanese royal family.
This felt like a book about family and culture, about self-acceptance and coming into your own. The love story felt like… a bit of a plot device at times, if I’m honest. Not that there weren’t some swoon-worthy moments, of course, because there were.
In all, I think most of my issues with this book are not the fault of the book or its author, at all. What happened, really, is that I went into it when what my heart really wanted was yet another reread of The Princess Diaries.
That, and I do think there were several plot threads that might’ve been easier to pull along in a series than in a standalone like this. In spite of these quibbles, however, I love the ultimate message that the story lands upon and am glad I stuck with it.
I would recommend this book to fans of YA, and to those who love a good story about learning to accept yourself regardless of whether you feel you “fit in” when, a la What A Girl Wants starring Amanda Bynes, you may be born to stand out, instead.
Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear your thoughts on this book below, if you’ve read it.
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