Emiko Jean’s latest YA offering feels like the older teenage sister of The Princess Diaries. Replace the kingdom of Genovia with modern day Japan, and add an attractive, grumpy bodyguard, and you have Tokyo Ever After.
At first glance, it would be easy to assume that this story nothing more than a feel good modern day fairytale—a young woman finding out she’s secretly a princess. Add some fancy dresses, some quirky mistakes, and a hot love interest, and voila! Happily ever after.
While yes, those things do happen, the goal of this story is not just to delight us, but also to reveal a struggle that many young adults face—finding out where you belong in the world.
The story follows Japanese American high school senior Izumi Tanaka. Born and raised in a small Northern California town by a single mother, Izumi has always struggled with fitting in. Sure, she has some awesome besties, and a so-ugly-it’s-cute dog named Tomagatchi to keep her company, but the burden of looking different has made growing up not the easiest thing. Not to mention, her mother refuses to talk about her biological father, a fact that has forever and always eaten away at her.
However, it seems like Izumi’s problems are about to be solved when she stumbles upon a clue about her father. A few quick Google searches later and Izumi discovers not only her father, but also that he is the Crown Prince of Japan. That makes Izumi a genuine, modern day princess.
After contacting her father, Izumi sets off for Japan, her heart full of hope that she will find her true place in the country of her heritage. Yet, her hopes are quickly dashed when her handsome personal bodyguard turns out to be a massive grump who nitpicks her every move, her twin, royal cousins are royally nasty, and the tabloids cannot wait to shred Japan’s lost princess to pieces.
Will she be able to fill this new role as a princess, and finally live happily ever after, or will she buckle, with hundreds of years of tradition and expectations falling on her head?
Despite its slightly farfetched plot point (who reads YA for realism anyways), Tokyo Ever After delivers a grounded main character in Izumi Tanaka, a potty humor aficionado, an ugly dog mom, and a regular at the Black Bear Diner in her tiny hometown of Mt. Shasta, California. She loves her friends and her mother fiercely, and the weird little quirks of her small town life. Yet, deep down Izumi feels torn in half. Her Japanese heritage and American upbringing often feel at war with each other. When her dad, the Crown Prince of Japan comes in and whisks her off to Japan, the dysphoria worsens. She’s too American to be Japanese, and too Japanese to be American.
What can a girl do to find acceptance in the world?
Turns out this book didn’t have the shallow answer that I expected, but rather a fairly mature outlook as to what can be done with this scenario. One of Izumi’s closest friends, in a heart to heart deep into the story, tells her that “some things are just meant to be felt.” There aren’t easy answers sometimes, and you have to ride it out to the other side. But, finding people who care and love you can help you through the confusion and craziness. While you search for your identity, you don’t have to do it alone.
Now, onto the fluffier side of things.
Despite its more serious message, Tokyo Ever After also delivers a dazzling, humorous, and romantic romp into Japanese royalty. Jean’s descriptions of Japanese culture, customs, food, and language are a delight to the senses. It was a treat to learn about a culture so vastly different from my own.
While romance is not the main point of this story, Emiko Jean does a great job with the classic forbidden romance trope. There is a definite sizzle between the adorkable Izumi and the serious, brick wall that is Akio. Their witty banter made me smile, and their vastly different personalities complimented each other beautifully.
All in all, if you enjoy fledgling princesses being in way over their heads, angsty bodyguards, lots of food porn, and being a disaster of a human being sometimes, then you’ll enjoy the story of Izumi Tanaka in Tokyo Ever After.
Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean was published on May 18, 2021.