Thursday, May 25, 2017

Review: It’s Not Like it’s a Secret by Misa Sugiura

It’s Not Like it’s a Secret by Misa Sugiura
Series: Standalone
Published: May 9th, 2017
Publisher: HarperTeen
400 pages (eARC)
Genre: Contemporary Young Adult/LGBTQ
Acquired this book: Via Edelweiss in exchange for honest consideration
Warning: May contain spoilers
{GoodReads || Buy this book: Amazon || Chapters/Indigo}

Sixteen-year-old Sana Kiyohara has too many secrets. Some are small, like how it bothers her when her friends don’t invite her to parties. Some are big, like that fact that her father may be having an affair. And then there’s the one that she can barely even admit to herself—the one about how she might have a crush on her best friend.

When Sana and her family move to California she begins to wonder if it’s finally time for some honesty, especially after she meets Jamie Ramirez. Jamie is beautiful and smart and unlike anyone Sana’s ever known. There are just a few problems: Sana’s new friends don’t trust Jamie’s crowd; Jamie’s friends clearly don’t want her around anyway; and a sweet guy named Caleb seems to have more-than-friendly feelings for her. Meanwhile, her dad’s affair is becoming too obvious to ignore anymore.

Sana always figured that the hardest thing would be to tell people that she wants to date a girl, but as she quickly learns, telling the truth is easy… what comes after it, though, is a whole lot more complicated.

I have mixed feelings about It’s Not Like It’s a Secret. On the one hand, I’m always ecstatic to find new f/f books, and the fact the main character is not only queer but also a person of colour overjoys me. Books like this are very slowly filling a gaping void in publishing, and I’m so, so happy to see them being published. I wanted so badly to like this book, was overall pretty meh for me. It was slow and way too long, and the plot was all over the place. It also had the one consistent...flaw? Drawback?...I keep finding in contemporary f/f: there was very little focus on the romance. I JUST WANT A F/F ROMANCE WHERE THE FOCUS IS THE ROMANCE, WHY IS THAT SO MUCH TO ASK FOR?!

Ahem. Anyway...

Sana was Japanese-American and I enjoyed learning a bit about the culture and traditions, largely through Sana’s interactions with her mother. I liked that when Sana’s family moved from the all-white community she grew up in to California, she finally found a place she truly fit and felt comfortable. I appreciated the open discussions about racism and stereotypes, especially among non-white groups (like, for instance, Sana’s Japanese mother had something racist to say about pretty much every ethnic group, and pretty much everyone stereotyped Sana and her friends as ‘smart Asians’ and Jamie and her friends as ‘lazy Mexicans’). It’s so important to talk about racism in an open way and to shine a light on people’s preconceived notions, incorrect perceptions, and times it felt like a story more about race than anything else. There was such a heavy emphasis put on the racism and stereotypes, and I know they’re important subjects and it’s important to see them addressed, especially in YA, but at times it felt like you couldn’t go more than a few pages without someone making a racist comment or the focus being brought back to some form of stereotype. I know I’m privileged in that I can’t imagine what it must be like to live with that kind of prejudice and hear those comments or know people are judging you based on the colour of your skin, but the heavy focus on racism added to the overall feeling of the plot being scattered.

On to the romance: Yay lesbians! Double yay for lesbians in YA! But...I wanted MORE. So much more. The interactions between Sana and Jamie were okay but not memorable. Half the time they were together, Sana was worried about Jamie’s friends and what they thought of her. I’d have liked to get to know a bit more about Jamie and WHY Sana liked her so much. It was an insta-crush, which is fine, but I didn’t feel like it ever went deeper than that, even when they were together. Then there was triangle? I’m not sure you could totally call it that, but I’m going to since it led to a cringe-worthy cheating storyline. It’s pretty sad that in an f/f book, I liked the opposite sex non-love-interest better than the gay love interest. I understand that in YA books it’s important that the characters are flawed and make mistakes because that’s realistic, and that’s how they learn and grow. I usually appreciate deeply flawed characters because it often leads to poignant lessons and growth, but Sana did so many questionable things it had me shaking my head and rolling my eyes more than rooting for her. Because of that and because I feel like we didn’t get to know much about Jamie, the romance fell flat for me. I also felt like Sana didn't learn that much or grow that much as a person, which was a bit disappointing.

Overall, I was underwhelmed by It’s Not Like it’s a Secret. I appreciated the diversity, but honestly if it hadn’t been for that, there would have been almost no story/tension/conflict. I wasn’t able to connect with the characters, and the story - especially the second half - dragged. This story wasn’t for me, but as always, I encourage people to decide for themselves if it sounds like something that would interest them.

Have you read It's Not Like it's a Secret? What did you think? If you haven't read it, do you plan to? What's the last book that left you feeling underwhelmed?

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