Haruna Mitsukai is an overachiever with dreams of attending the University of British Columbia. Ryu Debiru is a bad boy whose only desire is to escape this ridiculous prison called “life.” Both attend Shady Glenn Academy and despite their similar “hafu” identity, they couldn’t despise each other more. Years of avoidance come to an end when a major assignment on Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice pairs them together.
Just as everything reaches a breaking point, revelations about an old East Side mansion called “Heaven” causes Haruna to question everything she thought she knew about him.
As for Ryu? Well, all that glitters is most certainly not gold.
I’m not entirely sure of the angle of the story here. Whether it’s a case of high school romance, a kind of rebel-and-the-swot scenario, or whether it’s a story of gang violence, and the way that gangs can swallow vulnerable kids whole.
It could, of course, be both. But the main reason that I’ve pulled these two elements apart is that there’s a very noticeable shift mid-way through the novel from one to the other. I’d have liked to have seen the chapters at the orphanage spread out much more, so that they begin earlier and the transition from one mood to another is less abrupt. These odd jerks in the storytelling reappear at the point when Haruna and Ryu begin to feel their attraction to one another, and it does feel somewhat forced.
Ryu and Haruna both have their difficulties, as all good star-crossed lovers do. Haruna is struggling to juggle the expectations of her grandmother, the assumptions of her boyfriend, and the social lives of her friends, all with perfect grades. Ryu grows closer to being officially inducted into the gang that claimed the life of his father, and doesn’t understand why he should care about his grades and appearances on top of everything else. Both are Hafu – half-Japanese, and have varying pressures from the people around them to honour – or ignore – their heritage.
But there’s something deeper going on here as well. There are particular references to both Ryu and Haruna’s parents that make it clear there’s something else going on – or something else that has gone on, which these two young people are being inexorably pulled into. No matter how many times Haruna’s grandmother calls her Catherine, she won’t be able to ignore who she is. And Ryu knows only too well that there’s no way he can ignore his father’s legacy.
This is what pulls me into the next book in the series – what exactly is it that connects these two young people, beyond the school they go to. And I think along the way we’re invited to reassess the assumptions we make about everyone. Haruna and Ryu dislike each other largely because of what they assume about each other’s lives. Their tentative camaraderie is lovely to watch, and I think there’s a lesson to learn about the difference between people’s outward faces and their real lives. The jerky storytelling led to an inconsistent mood, but I would love to see where this goes next, and what mysteries of the past are unlocked.
Now, I can’t judge whether the Japanese/Hafu representation was done well here or not, obviously. I will say there’s a great deal of representation in terms of Asian people, with nationalities and background specified rather than generically ‘Asian’ – but it’s not own voices. I couldn’t find a review by someone who is half-Japanese, but if you’ve written or read one, please do let me know, I’d love to read it and link to it here!
There’s no obvious LGBTQIA+ rep. There is some persistent homophobia directed at Ryu because he didn’t want to look at a photo of a girl who’d been exposed in public.
I received a free digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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