"I'm here to take you to live with your father. In Tokyo, Japan! Happy birthday!" In the Land of the Rising Sun, where high culture meets high kitsch, and fashion and technology are at the forefront of the First World's future, the foreign-born teen elite attend ICS-the International Collegiate School of Tokyo. Their accents are fluid. Their homes are ridiculously posh. Their sports games often involve a (private) plane trip to another country. They miss school because of jet lag and visa issues. When they get in trouble, they seek diplomatic immunity. Enter foster-kid-out-of-water Elle Zoellner, who, on her sixteenth birthday, discovers that her long-lost father, Kenji Takahara, is actually a Japanese hotel mogul and wants her to come live with him. Um, yes, please! Elle jets off first class from Washington, DC, to Tokyo, which seems like a dream come true. Until she meets her enigmatic father, her way-too-fab aunt, and her hyper-critical grandmother, who seems to wish Elle didn't exist. In an effort to please her new family, Elle falls in with the Ex-Brats, a troop of uber-cool international kids who spend money like it's air. But when she starts to crush on a boy named Ryuu, who's frozen out by the Brats and despised by her new family, her already tenuous living situation just might implode. My Almost Flawless Tokyo Dream Life is about learning what it is to be a family, and finding the inner strength to be yourself, even in the most extreme circumstances.
My Almost Flawless Tokyo Dream LifeFeatured
What worked: This is a modern-day Cinderella tale set in the fast-paced world of Tokyo. Elle is a foster kid with a mother in prison for selling drugs. At first, she's not sure about the opportunity to go meet a father she never knew about. Then when she goes to Tokyo and becomes part of the inner circle at an elite school, her life feels like a dream. Nevermind her 'new' father works all the time or that her grandmother doesn't seem to like her. I really liked how Cohn pulls back the curtain and shows readers that not all is what it seems in world of the rich.
Elle is strong, funny, and excited to find out about her Japanese culture. This is where Cohn's writing excels. She shows readers Tokyo in lush, vivid details. I especially love when Elle and Ryuu go to 'cat island'. There's glimpses of Japanese culture, that at first are hard for Elle. But she tries her best to shine as she wants to connect with a father she never knew.
My only concern was how fast the story was tied up. I felt it almost felt like too tidy of an ending. Though Elle's arc of being true to herself and wanting to be part of a family she never knew about, rang very true.
Intriguing tale of learning about what family means and finding the strength to be true to yourself. Filled with rich descriptions of Tokyo and Japanese culture.
After all these years, Elle's dad brings her to live in Tokyo so he can get to know her, but he has his own demons he's fighting. Between that and his time being consumed by work, Elle discovers her dad is more of an absent one. So, her focus remains on school. She quickly befriends Imogen and the Ex-Brats who are among the rich and privileged. They are also the "popular click" in school and ice out anyone who doesn't fit in, including Elle's friend Akemi and her crush Ryuu.
While there wasn't much depth to Elle, she was still very strong and had me cheering her on. I love Ryuu and looked forward to the parts that contained him. He's reserved and quiet, so who he really is remains a mystery for most of the book. But I loved learning more and more.
The main message of the story is that it isn't always easy to be a family, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try. The ending is a little rushed, but it is also full of hope and promises that left me satisfied. It was also very interesting learning about Japanese culture and way of life. To me, that was the best part of the book and has me curious to learn more.
Final Verdict: I would recommend this to fans of coming of age, Japanese culture, sensitive family topics, and stories with characters who are finding who they are and where they fit in the world.