- Title: From Little Tokyo with Love
- Author: Rachel Lynn Solomon
- Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
- Release Date: 5/11/21
- Genre: Fiction
- Age Range: Young Adult
- Content Warnings: racism, homophobia, absent parents, panic attacks/anxiety
- Rating: ★★★★
- Publisher’s Summary: If Rika’s life seems like the beginning of a familiar fairy tale–being an orphan with two bossy cousins and working away in her aunts’ business–she would be the first to reject that foolish notion. After all, she loves her family (even if her cousins were named after Disney characters), and with her biracial background, amazing judo skills and red-hot temper, she doesn’t quite fit the princess mold. All that changes the instant she locks eyes with Grace Kimura, America’s reigning rom-com sweetheart, during the Nikkei Week Festival. From there, Rika embarks on a madcap adventure of hope and happiness–searching for clues that Grace is her long-lost mother, exploring Little Tokyo’s hidden treasures with cute actor Hank Chen, and maybe…finally finding a sense of belonging. But fairy tales are fiction and the real world isn’t so kind. Rika knows she’s setting herself up for disappointment, because happy endings don’t happen to girls like her. Should she walk away before she gets in even deeper, or let herself be swept away?
I absolutely loved Sarah Kuhn’s I Love You so Mochi, and I eagerly awaited the release of From Little Tokyo with Love.
I fell in love with Rika almost immediately. I love that she is fascinated by monsters of Japanese folklore like the nure-onna and that she even calls her temper the “nure-onna.” I admire that she’s not afraid to stand up for herself whether it’s against a boy who pretended to choke her in judo or a racist person at her aunts’ restaurant. I was certainly rooting for her to realize that she is enough and certainly worthy of love.
From Little Tokyo with Love has a fairy tale vibe throughout the story that does require some suspension of disbelief. There are several transitions between chapters that begin with “Once Upon a Time.” These remind me of the storybook that opens Cinderella (1950), but with a tongue in cheek flair. The first one includes, “Neither of these things happened, so she revealed herself to be a nure-onna…, transformed into a snake, and ate everyone’s faces off.”
Because of this fairy tale tone, there are also some elements of the story that don’t quite seem realistic. It seems unlikely that Hank, a movie star, would reply to a stranger’s Instagram message and agree to meet her. It also surprised me that no one recognized Grace Kimura as the pregnant teenager who used to be part of the Little Tokyo community. There is definitely a feeling that the reader of this book is watching a Grace Kimura movie.
While there are elements of their relationship that are not realistic, I really do love Hank (Henry) and Rika together. When they meet, Rika assumes he is a vandal and runs right into him, not exactly a typical “meet cute.” I love that they can tease and joke with each other and also discuss their insecurities. Hank doesn’t hesitate when Rika asks for his help in searching for Grace Kimura, and he continues to support her throughout the story.
I love books that feature restaurants prominently. Rika’s aunts’ restaurant, Katsu That, sounds AMAZING! They don’t only make traditional katsu like chicken and pork, but they make less traditional dishes like cheese katsu as well. As a major fan of mozzarella sticks, cheese breaded in panko and fried seems exactly up my alley. I was also drooling when Hank eats fried cheese on a stick at Santa Monica Pier. I want to get on a plane to LA and go to Katsu That immediately.
I recommend From Little Tokyo with Love to anyone who, like me, enjoys Disney, rom coms, and Disney films. I also highly suggest grabbing a copy of I Love You So Mochi if you haven’t read it yet.
Food Pairing: Mochi
Of course, I initially thought about pairing this book with katsu, but I did make katsu and share the recipe when we “traveled” to Tokyo in January. There are many other foods mentioned in this book including some delicious sounding tacos that Hank and Rika enjoy.
There is a scene in From Little Tokyo with Love where people are gathered and making mochi, Japanese rice cakes, and I realized that mochi would be the perfect pairing for this book.
We used to get ice cream filled mochi all of the time from Trader Joe’s when I was growing up, and I always loved them.
We saw all kinds of delicious flavors of mochi at H Mart, and we decided to try the melon flavored ones. They were perfectly chewy with a gooey filling. The melon flavor really came through as well, which felt nice and summery as it starts to warm up in NYC. I hope to try several other flavors soon.
Of course, From Little Tokyo with Love is bound to make you want some katsu (and other food as well).