book review: Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi





BURNT SUGAR
★★☆☆☆
Harry N. Abrams, 2021


I admired but didn’t particularly like this book. I’ve talked before about how I don’t really get on with books about motherhood, and sometimes the reverse is true too, I don’t always love books about daughterhood, especially when it’s the book’s main focus. (Something like Transcendent Kingdom is the exception, where the mother/daughter relationship is one thread among many.)

I was finding something salvageable in the first half of Burnt Sugar, but the second half just lost me. While I tend to enjoy ‘unlikable’ protagonists, Antara was often too much for me–I found her to be deliberately belligerent toward the reader in a way that I didn’t think was particularly interesting or well-executed. I think this book does have a lot going for it in terms of its chilly depiction of a strained mother/daughter relationship, but Antara herself staunchly refused to do any of the heavy lifting to earn my investment. I just didn’t find her believable or her actions comprehensible; this book is written in the first person and still I struggled to discern some of Antara’s motivations (this isn’t helped by the book’s awkward structure, flitting between the past and the present in a way that was occasionally challenging to follow and which I didn’t think ultimately did it any favors). 

Avni Doshi’s prose also failed to impress me, but, like most of my criticisms here, I feel that might just be a matter of personal taste. I do see why this book has been so critically well-received, it just really wasn’t for me.


Thank you to Netgalley and Abrams for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.

book review: The Art of Falling by Danielle McLaughlin






THE ART OF FALLING by Danielle McLaughlin
★★★☆☆
Random House, 2021


I started out loving this but it did eventually start to fall in my estimation. I adored McLaughlin’s writing: it’s clear-eyed and pacy and this is, on the whole, a fairly enjoyable read. I’m also a sucker for anything having to do with art or art history or museums, so I loved the plot thread involving a woman turning up out of nowhere and claiming to have been responsible for a sculpture supposed to have been created by the late, famous artist Robert Locke. 

Where I felt this novel fell short of its potential was in its domestic storyline: it follows art historian Nessa’s failing marriage (her husband has recently cheated on her and they’re trying to get past it for the sake of their teenage daughter), and it also introduces a figure from Nessa’s past who holds a secret about her. For one thing, the two threads (Nessa’s work at the museum and her home life) don’t dovetail in a way that I find satisfying or realistic (Luke’s hyperfixation on the statue was something I found almost absurd in how it was so transparently shoehorned in there). And for another thing, the secret about Nessa’s past revealed something that shone rather a different light on her husband’s cheating, which I felt could have added so much depth and complexity to that dynamic but which instead ended up feeling rather underexplored. 

On the whole this wasn’t bad but I also don’t think it quite showcases what Danielle McLaughlin is capable of.

Thank you to Netgalley for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.

reviewing two books by Brandon Taylor: Real Life and Filthy Animals



REAL LIFE by Brandon Taylor
★★★★★
Riverhead, 2020

I can’t believe it took me so long to read this and I’m very appreciative for Rick’s Booktube Spin and the lucky number #15 for finally making this happen for me. I thought Real Life was tremendous. It follows Wallace, a Black student in a predominantly white biochemistry master’s program at a midwestern university. 

Brandon Taylor captures two things with unerring precision: the first being the microaggressions that Wallace faces at the hands of his friends, mentors, and colleagues. There’s an infuriating scene toward the end where Wallace is in a situation where he’s been falsely accused of something, and rather than standing up for himself he quietly accepts his punishment. What’s infuriating isn’t that Wallace doesn’t speak up, but rather, that the reader knows exactly why he doesn’t, because Taylor has shown the reader that systemic dismissal, belittlement, and scorn does more than infuriate: it wears you down.

The second thing Taylor captures beautifully is academia as a suspension of reality, an almost liminal space between young adulthood and adulthood that exists somehow within the real world while following its own set of logic and social norms. Campus novels often glorify this lifestyle in a way that can be fun and deliciously indulgent, but Taylor leans into the opposite–digging into the way some people use academia as a crutch, accepting all of its quiet, mundane horrors in an effort to avoid ‘real life’.

I guess the prose in Real Life is very love-it-or-hate-it; I’ve seen a lot of people refer to it as labored and overwrought, and as someone who frequently cites overwrought prose as an offense, I don’t really see where that argument is coming from. The language is often poetic but to me ‘overwrought’ implies a certain lack of control over word choice and sentence structure; Taylor’s writing is on the other hand rather exact. This was a horrendously sad book in many ways, but also one that was pleasurable to spend time with.

And I think that sentiment will segue nicely into my review of Filthy Animals, because while I thought this was mostly brilliant, I did have a few more problems with it than I had expected to.



FILTHY ANIMALS by Brandon Taylor
★★★★☆
Riverhead, July 2021

I read Taylor’s short story Anne of Cleves ages ago (which appears in this collection), and I quickly fell in love. In some ways it’s a melancholic, heavy story, but there’s also a playfulness to it, and I found that tone so refreshing that I was sure that Filthy Animals was going to end up as one of my favorite books of the year.

Instead, this book is unendingly bleak. Anne of Cleves offers a brief respite from the misery, but it’s otherwise a weightier collection than I had expected. Every alternating story in this collection follows the same narrative: a depressed Black man named Lionel has just met a white couple at a party, Charles and Sophie, who are in an open relationship; he hooks up with Charles and then gets drawn into their lives. I loved the choice to anchor the collection to a single narrative, and without fail these stories were my favorites and the ones where Taylor most succeeded at accessing the characters’ complex emotional landscapes. 

The other stories left less of an impression on me, and I think it’s because we just don’t spend enough time with the characters to fully earn the emotional impact that Taylor is aiming for, and that he nails so well with Wallace’s story in Real Life. I finished this a week ago and Lionel’s story is really the only one that has stuck in my mind since then.

I still really enjoyed reading this–a discussed, I love Taylor’s writing–and I would wholeheartedly recommend it. It’s a skillful exploration of the intersection of loneliness, trauma, and intimacy–it just wasn’t entirely what I needed it to be. But that is a-okay! Will still devour whatever Taylor publishes next.


Thank you to Netgalley for the advanced copy of Filthy Animals provided in exchange for an honest review.

book review: That Way Madness Lies, edited by Dahlia Adler




THAT WAY MADNESS LIES edited by Dahlia Adler
★★★☆☆
Flatiron, March 16, 2021


I only requested this anthology so I could read the Lear story and move on with my life (in my quest to read every Lear retelling I can get my hands on), but what can I say, once I had it on my Kindle I couldn’t resist. Even though I don’t particularly like YA and didn’t have the highest of hopes that these stories would engage with the plays in particularly interesting ways. Still, there were some pleasant surprises here.

That Way Madness Lies is a YA anthology by a handful of noted writers, each retelling a different Shakespeare play. The selection of plays itself is very good–there are the crowd pleasers as well as a couple of unexpected ones. The organization of this anthology bothered me on a couple of levels–first off, why is The Winter’s Tale placed in the Late Romances category but not The Tempest? We’re also frequently treated to 1-page author’s notes after stories, all of the same tenor; “this is why the original play was problematic and here’s how I decided to fix it”. Which, aside from being jarring and downright annoying, showed such a blatant disregard for Shakespearean scholarship that I had to laugh–yes, of course this is a commercial anthology intended for a young audience but my god, patting yourself on the back for being brave enough to consider The Merchant of Venice through Shylock’s perspective as if scholars, directors, actors, and audiences haven’t been doing exactly that for centuries is solipsistic to the extreme. 

Anyway, as always with anthologies, it’s a mixed bag. Some of these stories are unexpected and brilliant and others fall spectacularly flat. So, let’s do this.

Comedies

“Severe Weather Warning” by Austin Siegemund-Broka and Emily Wibberley (The Tempest) – 4 stars
A nice and melancholy snapshot into sibling rivalry as a storm rages outside, delaying Prosper’s sister’s flight to a prestigious internship that she effectively stole from her sister. Really enjoyed this one and felt that it was one of the most successful stories in accessing the original play’s themes even as a nonliteral reimagining. 

“Shipwrecked” by Mark Oshiro (Twelfth Night) – 3 stars
Twelfth Night meets high school prom–we’ve got some love and heartbreak coupled with mistaken identity shenanigans as one twin has recently come out as nonbinary and has started to resemble their brother. It’s a bit corny but mostly harmless. 

“King of the Fairies” by Anna-Marie McLemore (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) – 1 star
Midsummer from the perspective of the “Indian” child abducted by Oberon and Titania. Hands down one of my least favorites from this collection; it couldn’t be more heavy-handed and patronizing if it tried. If you like McLemore’s writing you’ll probably like this story; I simply do not.

“Taming of the Soulmate” by K. Ancrum (The Taming of the Shrew) – 3 stars
A soulmate AU where Katherine doesn’t see color until she meets Petrucio at her sister Bianca’s party; rather an inconvenience for her 5-year plan. I take umbrage at a modern retelling framing Petruchio as the Reasonable One, but I grudgingly ended up appreciating where this story arrived.

“We Have Seen Better Days” by Lily Anderson (As You Like It) – 2 stars
I found this story perplexing. As You Like It, as far as I’m concerned, is fertile ground for a reimagining that focuses on gender identity (a topic otherwise omnipresent in this anthology)–and instead we get… a story about summer camp nostalgia and daddy issues? Anyway, I’d be happy to put my expectations aside about what this had the potential to be if it were any good at all, but it was objectively one of the weakest in the collection. 

“Some Other Metal” by Amy Rose Capetta and Cory McCarthy (Much Ado About Nothing) – 1 star
I kind of hate Much Ado so I was probably never going to like this very much but… yeah, it was bad. It follows two actors, Tegan and Taron, who play Beatrice and Benedick on stage, and off-stage have an antagonistic relationship, but they’re trying to be set up by their director. The meta narrative was painfully obvious and would be more fun if you enjoyed Beatrice and Benedick’s dynamic in the slightest which I can’t say I do. This story is also set in outer space for reasons that are of absolutely no consequence? 

“I Bleed” by Dahlia Adler (The Merchant of Venice) – 5 stars
Annoying author’s note aside I honestly adored this. The Merchant of Venice + high school doesn’t seem like a match made in heaven–right down to Antonio’s occupation being declared in the title, this is an inarguably adult work. Part of the fun, then, becomes seeing how deftly Adler adapts this story’s mature moving parts to a context which shouldn’t work at all… but somehow does, brilliantly. It’s a very literal adaptation which otherwise isn’t my favorite approach in this collection, but I found this one very successful. 

A Sonnet

“His Invitation” by Brittany Cavallaro (Sonnet 147) – 4 stars
A couple take a road trip to California in the only story in this collection that tackles a sonnet. I have to say, this one didn’t make a huge impression on me as I was reading (part of it due to being the shortest story in this collection), but interestingly it’s really the only one I’m still thinking about after having finished. 

Tragedies

“Partying is Such Sweet Sorrow” by Kiersten White (Romeo and Juliet) – 4 stars 
Yes, the title is stupid, but let’s move on. White actually does a remarkable job at capturing the simultaneous foolishness and lovability of the titular protagonists. This story is told entirely in text speak which admittedly is not my favorite, but it makes for fast, feverish reading, which is probably the effect that White intended. This story I felt was one of the most successful at transporting the emotional landscape of Shakespeare to a much smaller and more modern setting, and hands down the most effective story in the tragedy section. 

“Dreaming of the Dark” by Lindsay Smith (Julius Caesar) – 2 stars
Julius Caesar meets a private girl’s school and dark magic. The context of this one was so utterly contrived (Briony and Cassie have just killed Julia as a sacrifice to a dark god; Annamaria wants revenge) I couldn’t really take it seriously.

“The Tragedy of Cory Lanez” by Tochi Onyebuchi (Coriolanus) – 2 stars 
This one is probably better than I’m giving it credit for. Cameron Marcus, known by stage name Cory Lanez, is a rapper who was recently stabbed to death; this story tackles family, sexuality, and LA gang violence. Unfortunately it’s also told as an oral history, and it’s that format that I couldn’t really get past–I don’t think it works at all in short story form; the author hasn’t earned the reader’s investment in the character that we’re mourning and the result is tedium. Which is kind of fitting for Coriolanus to be fair.

“Elsinore” by Patrice Caldwell (Hamlet) – 3 stars 
Hamlet retold as a penny dreadful–we’re in Victorian England, and Claudius is a vampire. Anne (Hamlet) and Camilla (Ophelia) team up to take him down. This will work for a lot of readers better than it worked for me, it simply wasn’t to my taste.

“Out of the Storm” by Joy McCullough (King Lear) – 1 star
Oh boy, HERE WE GO. I was already approaching this with trepidation after despising McCullough’s bestselling Blood Water Paint, but I think my mind was as open as it could have been under the circumstances. Anyway, I remain unconvinced that McCullough has read anything more than the wikipedia summary for Lear as this really failed to engage with it on… any level deeper than ‘three sisters whose names start with G, R, C.’ Written like a play script, it’s a snapshot piece where we see Gabi and Cora at their dying father’s bedside at the hospital; Rowan, the middle daughter, bursts in and we discover that she’s absented herself from the family to get out from under their strict minister father’s thumb. Arguments ensue; Rowan is accused of being selfish, she retaliates that she had the fortitude to escape, etc., that kind of thing. Look, I’m sympathetic to the fact that Lear is one of the hardest plays to retell and I’m happy for a reimagining to be nonliteral, as long as it accesses some of the original play’s themes, which this just didn’t, at all. Ample meditation on truth, power, aging, justice, human nature, and cosmic inevitability to draw from and you opt for… three sisters with an over-controlling father? (The play script format was insufferable as well; if this were a real play it would be peak ‘family arguing at the dinner table’ theatre.)

“We Fail” by Samantha Mabry (Macbeth) – 1 star 
Just dreadful. Drea, a high school senior, has recently suffered a miscarriage, and her fiancé, Mateo, has been passed over for a football scholarship. When the two get in a car crash and their friend Duncan is pinned beneath the car, Drea convinces Mateo to wait before calling for help, so Duncan will die and Mateo can take his scholarship; and also because she’s still mourning the loss of her child and needs to take control of their future. I really despise Macbeth retellings that have a hyperfixation on Lady Macbeth’s fertility, and for that narrative to be given to a high schooler made it all the more perplexing and oddly melodramatic in a way that didn’t show a similar self-awareness as the Romeo and Juliet story. This was too rushed as well; maybe it could have done something interesting as a longer story, but hurtling through the events of Macbeth at breakneck speed just didn’t work.

Late Romance

“Lost Girl” by Melissa Bashardoust (The Winter’s Tale) – 4 stars 
This was a lovely story about Perdita who recently discovered the identity of her absent father, trying to cope with that as her new relationship with classics student Zal blossoms. It’s short and sweet and a nice note to end on.

Thank you to Netgalley and Flatiron for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.

book review: Milk Fed by Melissa Broder





MILK FED by Melissa Broder
★★★★☆
Scribner, February 2, 2021


Milk Fed just goes to show that you can love a book and still be incredibly disappointed in it. After I read the first 30%, I was convinced that this was going to be my favorite book of the year. Ultimately it did lose a bit of steam and I can’t help but to mourn for the exceptional book that it could have been, but nevertheless, I still enjoyed this so much and recommend it wholehearted to the right reader.

Milk Fed, Broder’s sophomore novel following her sensational debut The Pisces, follows Rachel, a lapsed Jewish woman who works at a talent agency in LA and spends every waking hour of her days counting calories and fixating on her diet. Her therapist recommends a detox from her emotionally abusive mother, who Rachel usually calls every day. Mid-detox, she meets Miriam, an Orthodox woman who works at Rachel’s local frozen yogurt place, who Rachel becomes fixated on, leading to a breakdown of her carefully constructed food rituals. 

Broder’s books are messy, piercing, gritty, and deeply, deeply funny–it’s a recipe that works perfectly to my tastes. (Also, if you’re familiar with LA and/or into bougie LA culture… her books are such a treat.) Rachel is a character whose head I bizarrely enjoyed inhabiting, in spite of or perhaps because of the sheer level of toxicity. Rachel was so convincing and well-crafted that I felt like I knew her intimately after only a few pages. Melissa Broder really excels at sharp and specific characterization where a lot of books in the ‘disaster woman’ genre tend to opt for a more ‘generic millennial every-woman’ approach (which I’ve certainly seen done well, but which I think I may be a bit burnt out on). Where this book falters is in its introduction of Miriam and her family–the pace slows, the focus shifts, Rachel’s behavior becomes slightly less intelligible. Still, while I ultimately felt that Broder could have used a defter hand in editing to get it up to the high standard she set for herself in The Pisces, I honestly loved spending time with this book. It’s not for everyone, but if you gravitate toward the slightly fucked up and absurd, you’ll probably love this too.

Massive trigger warning for eating disorders (in many different forms, though calorie counting is a big one). Probably other things too, but that’s the big one.

Thanks to Netgalley and Scribner for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.

book review: Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson




OPEN WATER by Caleb Azumah Nelson
★★★★★
Viking, February 4, 2021


“To be you is to apologize and often that apology comes in the form of suppression. That suppression is indiscriminate. That suppression knows not when it will spill. What you’re trying to say is that it’s easier for you to hide in your own darkness, than energy cloaked in your own vulnerability. Not better, but easier. However, the longer you hold it in, the more likely you are to suffocate. At some point, you must breathe.”

Caleb Azumah Nelson’s debut, a slim volume just under 150 pages, blew me away. I’m inherently skeptical of second-person narration; I find it particularly tricky to do effectively and with real purpose, so when I started reading it was with a slight apprehension, but Azumah Nelson won my trust effortlessly. His writing is absorbing and gorgeous, the bond between character and reader sealed by the author’s choice to frame reader as protagonist, a choice that has the potential to fall flat but which instead is elevated by Azumah Nelson’s sharp commentary on sight and observation. 

This probably sounds like an off the wall comparison but Open Water is a bit like James Baldwin meets Sally Rooney. It has that tender, push-and-pull, will-they-won’t-they quality of Normal People but it’s also heavier; the stakes are higher; it’s not a book generically about young love but instead specifically about young Black love, and the cost of systemic racism on Black love and Black bodies. It’s a gentle, supple story, joyous and heart-rending and intimate.

26-year-old Caleb Azumah Nelson is an author to watch. Calling it now, whatever he writes next will be shortlisted for the Booker.


Thank you to Netgalley and to Viking for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.

book review: Kink by R.O. Kwon and Garth Greenwell




KINK: STORIES edited by R.O. Kwon and Garth Greenwell
★★★☆☆
Simon & Schuster, February 9, 2021



Like most anthologies, Kink: Stories was a mixed bag, though it’s certainly enjoyable for its novelty alone (its thesis being that erotica has a place in literary fiction). I found the preponderance of stories about BDSM started to get a little boring after a while, but this was otherwise a refreshing collection that I enjoyed spending time with.

I felt the stories that were the most successful were the ones that contextualized the characters’ kinks—I don’t mean that in a ‘every kink comes from a fucked up childhood’ kind of way; I mean that your life and your sex life are part of the same whole and some of these stories were more interested in interrogating that intersection than others. 

The two absolute stand-outs were Brandon Taylor’s Oh, Youth (tender, devastating) and Carmen Maria Machado’s The Lost Performance of the High Priestess of the Temple of Horror (weird, sensual)–incidentally the two longest stories in the collection. The other surprising highlight for me was Trust by Larissa Pham, an author I’d never heard of, whose Vermont-set story I found evocative and effectively moving. 

The less said about Roxane Gay’s Reach the better, and a handful of other stories fell flat too, mostly the ones that lacked interiority of any kind. You could tell that a lot of these authors wanted to forgo character and dive straight into Commentary About Desire, and I always found that much less effective.

(Also, anyone looking forward to new Garth Greenwell should know that his story, Gospodar, is a chapter taken straight from Cleanness–I ended up skipping it when I realized I recognized what I was reading as I hadn’t particularly enjoyed that chapter the first time.)

Bottom line is that it’s honestly worth the price of admission for Taylor and Machado, but otherwise it didn’t totally reach its promising potential.


Thank you to Netgalley and Simon & Schuster for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.

book review: No One Asked for This by Cazzie David




NO ONE ASKED FOR THIS by Cazzie David
★★★★★
Mariner Books, 2020





About a month ago I read an interview with Cazzie David about her breakup with Pete Davidson. I could not for a million dollars tell you why I clicked on that article, having no emotional investment in either of these people, but here we are. I was struck by two things: how resonant I found the way Cazzie talks about anxiety, and the fact that she’s open about having emetophobia, something I’ve struggled with since the age of eight. So that alone was enough to pique my curiosity about this essay collection. 

The thing about this book is that you need to accept what it’s trying to do and read it in good faith. Would this have been published if Cazzie weren’t Larry David’s daughter, of course not, but is she trying to join the ranks of great modern essayists like Jia Tolentino? Not in the slightest. These essays are self-indulgent, tone deaf, and solipsistic, but if you dwell on any of these things I promise you are taking this collection much more seriously than Cazzie is. 

So let’s focus on the good, because I unabashedly loved this book. Cazzie’s writing won’t win any literary awards but she’s surprisingly incisive, especially when it comes to talking about anxiety and her fear of mortality. Another thing is, the more neurotypical you are, the less this book is going to resonate with you (not that you’re necessarily neurotypical if you didn’t like it). Cazzie makes absolutely no effort to be likable; she paints a portrait of what it’s like to be fully in thrall of anxiety and the insidious ways it tears you apart from the inside out, affecting both your self-worth and your relationships. She makes comments like this, that are on one level dismissive and alienating (yes, some people simply “get really bad anxiety” and it’s still a bitch for them to live with), and on another level were like looking into a mirror:

“I never understood social media posts advising people that “it’s okay to not feel good all the time!” Who said that wasn’t okay? Who is so okay to the point where they need to be reminded that it’s okay when they don’t feel okay?! When people “reveal” they “get really bad anxiety,” I’m dumbfounded, because I’ve never not been anxious long enough to “get” anxiety. It doesn’t leave. Not ever.”

She’s also funny as hell. You’ll either get her humor or you won’t, and you’ll know by the end of the first essay which side you’re on. But–surprisingly, for the fact that you’re spending 300+ pages inside the head of an extremely unhappy person–this collection is fun. It’s self-deprecating, it’s clever, and above all else, it’s an entertaining way to spend an afternoon.

This isn’t for everyone (clearly), but I just really ‘got’ this book; I got what Cazzie was trying to do with it and I also got Cazzie as a person, and it made me feel slightly less alone in the world whenever I picked it up. At the end of the day, that’s all you can ask from a book like this.

Thank you to Mariner Books and Netgalley for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.

book review: Luster by Raven Leilani





LUSTER by Raven Leilani
★★★☆☆
FSG, 2020


I guess it’s natural to be slightly underwhelmed by a book that’s gotten as much hype as Luster has.  And it absolutely does deserve the hype, in a lot of ways.  Raven Leilani’s voice and writing style are spectacular, and so is her characterization of protagonist Edie.  This is very much a “disaster women” book (i.e., a subgenre of literary fiction about 20-something year-old women having a lot of casual sex and making terrible life decisions) but it’s also its own thing, refreshing both in voice and structure. 

My main issue with this book isn’t even something it did wrong, per se – but about 40% through the book it took a turn that I didn’t want it to take, and we ended up spending the rest of the book in a situation that I found much less interesting than the one that had been presented to us at the beginning.  I didn’t find Rebecca to be a particularly convincing figure and her dynamic with Edie really failed to engage or move me.  Even less interesting to me was Eric, Edie’s love interest, an older, married, white man (Edie is a Black woman, and much younger than Eric – it’s a dynamic that facilitates moments of sharp insight on Leilani’s part but Eric himself is something of a wet blanket).  It’s Edie herself that holds this novel together (she’s a realistic, sympathetic, compelling figure); it’s the circumstances she finds herself in that I felt didn’t ultimately live up to their narrative potential.

I initially gave this 4 stars but I waited a few weeks to write this review and in that time this book has sort of faded in my estimation and I haven’t really thought about it since putting it down, so that’s never an amazing sign.  I think this is a promising debut in a lot of ways and Raven Leilani is absolutely an author I’ll be keeping an eye on, but this didn’t quite do what I wanted it to do for me.

Thank you to Netgalley and FSG for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.

book review: Tokyo Ueno Station by Miri Yū





TOKYO UENO STATION by Miri Yū
★★★☆☆
Riverhead, 2020


Tokyo Ueno Station is a short, sparse book which follows the life of Kazu, born in 1933, the same year as the Emperor.  Kazu’s life (mostly characterized by tragedy and poverty) is thematically entwined with the Emperor’s through a series of coincidences that tie their families together – and it’s also closely connected to Ueno Park, a historically significant site in Tokyo that Kazu’s spirit now haunts after his death.

This is a mournful, elegant book that ultimately didn’t leave much of an impression on me.  In fact, I’m struggling to write this review because I finished this a few days ago and it’s already slipped from my mind almost entirely.  I don’t know what it was, because I didn’t find a single thing about this book to be overtly objectionable; it just didn’t fully come together for me.  I think the fragmented, vignette-style structure paired with its incredibly short length left me wanting more.

Also – in some ways this comparison seems absurd but I also can’t get it out of my head – this reminded me so much of When All Is Said by Anne Griffin (a book I really didn’t care for), which follows an elderly Irish man looking back on his life and the people who shaped him the most.  In both cases I felt like I was being spoon-fed these tragic stories on a very surface level without organically feeling any of it.  I do think Tokyo Ueno Station is the more accomplished book, but I guess ‘old men mournfully looking back on their sad lives-lit’ is not for me?

Thank you to Netgalley and Riverhead for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.