by Sarah Kuhn
“The thing is, the perfection of my parents’ relationship, the fact that they’ve been through so much together and can still look at each other like that, makes me feel like I have to get love exactly right on the first try. Like they did. I know they want something like what they have for me, just like my mom wants me to be able to achieve all my dreams as an artist.”
Artist Kimiko Nakamura lives in her own head; her perfectionistic tendencies make it hard for her to take action and face a reality that is less perfect than her imagination. For months, Kimi has been unable to paint a thing, despite the fact her family is celebrating her acceptance to the prestigious Liu Academy for college. She’s even dropped out of her senior art class without telling her mom, who is a notable Japanese American artist herself. After a particularly bad fight with her mom about her future, Kimi decides to accept an unexpected invitation to spend her spring break in Japan with her mother’s estranged parents. Maybe in Kyoto she’ll find herself and her path forward.
Kimi knows she is lucky not to be facing the typical pressures to become a doctor or a lawyer, but the pressure to live up to her mother’s artistic legacy has become just as stifling in its own way. Worse, Kimi knows how much her mom gave up in order to become an artist, destroying her relationship with her own parents along the way. The more the pressure builds, the more Kimi escapes into her distractions, sketching fashion and making quirky clothes out of unusual materials instead of working on her painting. Creating Kimi Originals in the form of a fashion is free from expectations, while her other art has become fraught and no longer enjoyable. She finds it increasingly hard to believe that she ever enjoyed painting. She finds much more joy in handcrafting a Starburst dress for one of her best friends in order to help her work up the courage to ask out the girl she has a crush on.
Kimi doesn’t speak Japanese, but fortunately for her both her grandparents and the boy she meets in the park on her first day in Kyoto speak English. Akira’s lifelong dream is to become a doctor, but he is helping his uncle with his mochi business until the fall. (It is not explained why his school year would begin in the autumn when the Japanese school year generally begins in April.) Between his shifts at the mochi stand, and Kimi’s time with her grandparents, they take a picturesque, touristy romp around Kyoto during cherry blossom season, stumbling into first love, and then being immediately faced with the fact that Kimi’s time in Japan is nearly as fleeting as the sakura season.
Narrated in the first person, with occasionally epistolary elements in the form of letters back home to her mother, I Love You so Mochi is a cute romance about finding yourself in the midst of family pressures and expectations. In Japan, Kimi learns more about the complexities of her mother’s childhood and the eventual estrangement that preceded her birth. While she bonds quickly with her grandfather, her grandmother proves a harder nut to crack, so seeing them eventually begin to understand one another was perhaps the most affecting part of the story. Slowly but surely, Kimi is feeling her way towards a path that might bring her family back together, while also allowing her to forge her own way into the future.
You might also like Asian YA Fantasy and Romance Mini-Reviews
Not sure what to read next? Request a recommendation!