Book Review: If You Follow Me by Malena Watrous

ifyoufollowTitle: 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.)

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18 Responses to Book Review: If You Follow Me by Malena Watrous

  1. Anna says:

    I’ve seen a lot of mixed reviews for this book, and I’m not yet sure whether I want to read it or not. I love the cover, though.
    .-= Anna´s last blog ..Mailbox Monday — March 22 =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Anna – I definitely think she’s a gifted writer – so I would hate for my review to put anyone off giving it a try!

  2. nomadreader
    Twitter: nomadreader
    says:

    I absolutely loved this book, but I know it’s not a book with universal appeal. I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy it as much as I did, but we definitely agree about looking forward to more from Malena!
    .-= nomadreader´s last blog ..From Short Story to First Novel: a guest post by Malena Watrous =-.

  3. trish says:

    I agree that it’s a fine line between humor and superiority when talking about another culture. I find it so fascinating that this book has been so polarizing, which means it would probably make a great book club pick! :)

    Thanks for being on this tour! I love your reviews!

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Trish – yes, this would be a great book club pick – it would spark some interesting discussions!

  4. Sounds like a very interesting read – thanks for your review which has put this book on my radar

    Hannah

  5. I’m so interested in the premise of this book, but agree that finding the right balance could be difficult. Too bad it wasn’t done a little better.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Kathy – I know other people have really liked it – so part of it is just me, I think.

  6. I read another review of this recently that was very positive. It’s always nice to get a little balance and read one that’s not so glowing as well. Thank you for your great review, Carrie.
    .-= Literary Feline´s last blog ..Review: 31 Hours by Masha Hamilton =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Wendy – yes, I’ve read some gushing reviews, too – and I’m glad for the author’s sake, because she’s definitely talented.

  7. Jenny says:

    I’m one of the ones that loved this book! I actually thought she did a good job with the culture thing. I feel like I tend to be sensitive to how Asians are portrayed since I’m half Asian, but I actually wasn’t offended by anything. I thought she portrayed them well.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Jenny – I’m glad, then – maybe I’m just overly sensitive, since I’m not Asian. :)

  8. heidenkind says:

    I don’t think I’ve read a lot of fish-out-of-water stories, but the synopsis makes me think of Anna and the King for some reason.
    .-= heidenkind´s last blog ..The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope =-.

  9. kay says:

    Great honest review. I love fish out of water stories, and this one sounds interesting.
    .-= kay´s last blog ..Wordless Wednesday – What lurks behind your books =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Thanks, Kay. It’s hard to give a less than glowing review to a book when you feel the author is talented. I hope that my review doesn’t deter anyone from giving this book – or others by Ms. Watrous – a try.