Title: If You Follow Me
Author: Malena Watrous
Genre: Contemporary fiction, multi-cultural fiction
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Rating: 3 and a half stars
Source: ARC for TLC Book Tours
First line: Dear Miss Marina how are you?
Marina is still reeling from her father’s suicide when she moves to a rural town in Japan to speak English. As she attempts to teach her students, she must also learn the intricate rules of behavior and decorum inherent in Japanese culture – down to the most detailed rules of what to do with your garbage. She attempts to navigate these rules, while embarking on a friendship with Hiro, the man who is her supervisor. As this friendship begins to look like something deeper, Marina is left to wonder what that means for her current relationship with Carolyn, whom she followed to Japan.
I have to admit that until I was over halfway through, I wasn’t sure I liked this book. I had a very hard time liking Marina and an even harder time understanding some of the choices she made. But once I reached the halfway point, I wanted to see how things turned out – not so much because of Marina, but because of the character of Hiro. I loved his dedication to his students, and felt so badly for how discouraged he became by their resistance to his efforts. The letters Hiro wrote to Marina were my favorite part of the book, because they gave insight into who he was.
Fish out of water stories can be hard – there’s a fine line between finding the humor in cultural differences, and putting forward a sense of superiority. While I believe that Ms. Watrous has a love for the country of Japan, I don’t think that she was entirely successful in walking this line. There were times when some of the humor at the cultural differences came across as being at the expense of the Japanese. However, I don’t believe that was the author’s intent.
While I had a mixed reaction to the main character, I did enjoy Ms. Watrous’s writing style, and she did a wonderful job of describing the characters and places that Marina encounters. I will definitely be looking forward to more of her work.
(An ARC of If You Follow Me was provided to me by the publisher for the purpose of reviewing it for this blog tour. The above link is an Amazon affiliate link. If you click on it and subsequently purchase anything, I will receive a small percentage in commission.)