Tokyo Dreaming, Emiko Jean
Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary
Publisher: Flatiron Books (MacMillan)
Length: 336 pages
Contains: language, anxiety/panic attacks, mentions of underaged drinking, suggestive content, pop culture references
My rating: 3.5 stars
Summary: When Japanese-American Izumi Tanaka learned her father was the Crown Prince of Japan, she became a princess overnight. Now, she’s overcome conniving cousins, salacious press, and an imperial scandal to finally find a place she belongs. She has a perfect bodyguard turned boyfriend. Her stinky dog, Tamagotchi, is living with her in Tokyo. Her parents have even rekindled their college romance and are engaged. A royal wedding is on the horizon! Izumi’s life is a Tokyo dream come true.
Her parents’ engagement hits a brick wall. The Imperial Household Council refuses to approve the marriage citing concerns about Izumi and her mother’s lack of pedigree. And on top of it all, her bodyguard turned boyfriend makes a shocking decision about their relationship. At the threat of everything falling apart, Izumi vows to do whatever it takes to help win over the council. Which means upping her newly acquired princess game.
But at what cost? Izumi will do anything to help her parents achieve their happily ever after, but what if playing the perfect princess means sacrificing her own? Will she find a way to forge her own path and follow her heart?
A while back, I received an email from a lovely intern at MacMillan inviting me to be a part of the blog tour for Tokyo Dreaming. As a testament to how behind on posts I am, I buddy read Tokyo Ever After 364 days ago and still haven’t written my review, but it was a fun and summery read, so I jumped at the chance to get my hands on the sequel.
Tokyo Dreaming is out TODAY, so you can get your copy now.
Emiko Jean will be making her adult debut in a few months, and her “whip-smart, laugh-out-loud funny, and utterly heartwarming novel about motherhood, daughterhood, and love” is available for preorder now.
Disclaimer: I recently caved and became a Bookshop affiliate, so if you purchase through the links I provided, you’ll be supporting indie bookstores and this book blogger’s reading habits.
This is such a hard review to write because I have so many mixed feelings about the Tokyo Ever After sequel. Reading Tokyo Dreaming was like riding a wave where I kept oscillating between grinning idiotically and cringing so hard.
Tokyo Dreaming and I did not get off on the right foot. The story kicked off with what was pretty much a clunky rehash of what happened during the first book. Emiko Jean started dropping hints about what the story would look like, and I was not impressed. It just seemed clichéd and predictable, and I wasn’t really excited about it. But then the story started picking up, and things were looking up. The story was a lot of fun: light, breezy and surprisingly entertaining after the slow start to the story. Jean made some unexpected choices that took the plot in a bit of a different direction than I anticipated, introduced a new character who quickly wormed his way into my heart, and somehow converted me into a fan of The Shining Twins. I thought this was going to be a 4+ star book and start drafting a rave review when I hit the third act. The ending was a bit of a letdown which was especially disappointing since finishing on a low note kind of puts a damper on the whole reading experience.
Tokyo Dreaming was a strong sequel. Once I got past the rocky start and was able to settle into the story, I had a lot of fun. Izumi is a likeable and fairly distinctive narrator with an understated humor that I love. Emiko Jean gave a story filled with what CW @ The Quiet Pond calls “tropey goodness,” but she managed to do it in an unexpected and refreshing way. She put enough of a twist on the seemingly predictable storyline that she kept me guessing and invested in the story the whole time.
While the story was a sweet, lighthearted read, it also explored concepts like identity, belonging, honor and sacrifice. I’d categorize it more as a coming-of-age story rather than a romance (though there’s plenty of that, too.) I appreciate what Emiko Jean attempted to do with Tokyo Dreaming and especially enjoyed watching Izumi navigate her identity in her “homeland.” I’ve always found stories exploring Asian American identity interest but have a new appreciation for them after spending this past month celebrating diasporic Asian Pasifia voices.
That being said, I do wish some of these ideas had been developed more. There were just so many interesting ways the themes could’ve been explored, and I felt like Jean missed the opportunity to delve deeper. We got a lot of surface-level analysis without much nuance or complexity, which is a shame because the potential was certainly there. I wish Jean had wrestled with some of these concepts more, but she kind of glossed over potential thought-provoking moments. As a result, a lot of her attempts to create a more meaningful story, unfortunately, fell flat for me.
I was especially disappointed with the way Tokyo Dreaming ended. The final third of the book paled in comparison to the rest of the story and was extremely underwhelming. The story was building such great momentum, but as we approached the climax, it just fell apart. It was like reaching the peak of a roller coaster and plateauing. I mean, we were going along at a nice pace, all easy, breezy, Cover Girl, when Jean took a sharp turn, and the lighthearted story suddenly became this melodramatic piece. I think part of this was the fact that Izumi’s character arc wasn’t handled was a much finesse as it could’ve been. It just felt overly simplistic and kind of lackluster, especially towards the end which really set the tone for the ending as a whole. It felt rushed, and I wasn’t totally satisfied with the resolution. Things were wrapped up a little too neatly and nicely, and the ending didn’t quite have the same level of goundedness that the rest of the story did.
Emiko Jean is a perfectly lovely writer, but because I’m me, I have to point out a few areas for improvement. (As a disclaimer, a lot of these are personal pet peeves and probably won’t bother the average reader as much as they bothered me.)
First, I have to address my biggest pain point: the constant references to the events of Tokyo Ever After. I get wanting to recap what happened in previous books when you’re writing a sequel, and that’s fine if you want help readers who might’ve forgotten some of the finer details from the first book (it’s me, I’m the reader,) but it was just kind of awkwardly incorporated and kept interrupting the natural flow of the story. It also got to the point where it felt like I was reading a Cliffnotes entry for Tokyo Ever After because Izumi kept giving us one to two sentence summaries throughout the initial chapters. The thing is, a lot of the time, the reminders weren’t even main plot points from the first book. I personally found it really distracting (it got to the point where I’d stop to make notes like “yeah, you definitely don’t need to read book 1” or “we don’t need a play-by-play,”) and think it was a big reason it took me a while to get into the story. TL;DR: if you’re wondering if you need to read Tokyo Ever After before you read Tokyo Dreaming, you don’t.
In general, I don’t have any major issues with Jean Emiko’s writing style. Sure, there were a few awkward sentences or two, but in general, it was nothing like the grating, cringey language I’ve come to associate badly written YA. BUT the romance had me dying (and not in a good way.) I vaguely remember cheesy romance descriptions from Tokyo Ever After, but for some reason, I found them especially nauseating this time around. Thankfully, (minor spoiler) Akio doesn’t get a whole lot of screen time in Tokyo Dreaming, (end) so the sickeningly sweet romantic descriptions were kept to a minimum, but I was not a fan. (Also, what does it mean when something “reeks of ozone”?”)
The last and most minor offence was the use of Japanese throughout the book. I have no issue with non-English languages in my book, but it should add to the story somehow or, at the very least, not detract from the reading experience. There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to when and why Japanese was used, especially because the phrases or sentences were immediately followed by their English translation. It just made the narrative unnecessarily awkward and clunky.
The Best Parts.
The backdrop of Tokyo in this book is an absolute dream. Even though Tokyo Ever After mostly took place in Japan, it never really felt like a big part of the story. On the other hand, Tokyo Dreaming was like a mini-fictional tour of the island nation. In her acknowledgments, Emiko Jean thanks her friend Carrie for her help in “brining Japan to life in this book” and let me tell you right now we should all thank Carrie for her contribution. The descriptions were so detailed and vibrant they both cured and fed my ever-growing wanderlust.
I loved the fact that Izumi’s parents played a larger role in Tokyo Dreaming. I mean, a second-chance romance between boomer parents whose attempts at Gen Z slang are somehow endearing and not cringe? YES PLEASE. In fact, can I have some more, please? I can’t help but feel like we were robbed a little bit that most of Izumi’s parents’ relationship happened during the time skip between the two books.
I mentioned it earlier, but Tokyo Dreaming gave me some of my new favorite characters in the series. The newest character, Eriku, has my whole heart, and I am somehow now a fan of the creepy and conniving twins. Like, I low-key want a sequel so we can get more of The Shining twins. I was sad, though, that some of the characters we met in Tokyo Ever After like Mariko, Reina, and Mr. Fuchigami (okay, I might be the only one who likes the palace chamberlain,) didn’t get as much attention in this book, but all the reason to petition for more?
Tokyo Dreaming is a book that lovers of Tokyo Ever After and newcomers can enjoy. It was a solid sequel and a fun read and honestly would’ve been a much higher rated book I weren’t so distracted by the disappointing ending. If Emiko Jean decides to publish a third Tokyo book, I won’t be mad.
- I really liked the way Cossette @ Tea Time Lit addressed the role of media in her review: “It’s a reminder that no matter how famous or well-connected someone is, they’re a real person with feelings, and words do matter. I found the scene where Izumi’s mom talks about the pressure she’s faced to be particularly powerful.” You can also read more about my new fav, Eriku, in her review.
- I will always associate Tokyo Ever After with Kal @ Reader Voracious because I discovered her blog through a giveaway she held to pass along her ARC, which I was lucky enough to win. Her detailed review has my new favorite description of the Tokyo Ever After books as, the “Wait, I’m a Princess? but make it Asian” series but also calls out the way “Tokyo Dreaming really tackles the whole concept of needing to be special and have high aspirations.“
- Amanda @ Bookish Brews calls Tokyo Ever After a series that, “takes The Princess Diaries…and gives it back to Asian Americans.” If you want to read more about the identity aspect of Tokyo Dreaming, you should check out her review where she talks about what the series means to her.