Title: It’s Not Like It’s a Secret
Author: Misa Sugiura
Genre: YA Contemporary
Length: 394 pages
Release Date: November 13, 2018
Setting: San Jose, California
Racism, Homophobia, Martial Affair, Stereotyping, Prejudice
Japanese (#OwnVoices), Mexican, Chinese, Vietnamese, Lesbian, LGBTQ
I don’t think this book was made to make anyone feel comfortable. Yes, it has a cute premise of Sana coming to terms with her feelings towards girls, and more specifically Jamie, but there’s also so many instances of microaggressions that are directed at both characters, fetishism of lesbians, and other things in here that make for a bigger discussion. Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with having these hard topics being depicted in a novel and providing that kind of nuanced discussion to be had in a literature setting, but it also can’t be brushed off for the sake of having a cute coming of age love story.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this novel a lot, and as someone who is Japanese like Sana, a lot of what she went through with her family was something that I could relate to. The jokes about Asian parents and all that really hit a soft spot in my heart because yep, I totally knew what they were talking about. But then the way that Sana’s mother would talk about Jamie like just because she was Mexican, she was lazy, or she was being treated differently because she needed it, or just some of those really bad stereotypes that came out of her mouth really hurt me. And I could see how #ownvoices Mexican reviewers would see it as insulting and offensive and not want to continue on with it. Even if Sana did call out her mother on the more offensive things she would say, we see Sana saying some of her own pretty offensive statements and it just didn’t make sense. Especially since she knows what it’s like to be on the receiving end – and quite frankly so does Sana’s mom but I guess adults are different sometimes – so why would she say that about someone she supposedly loves?
I should but a disclaimer on here that this review is coming three months or so after I read the book, so please forgive me for not remembering specific quotes or scenes right now. It would also take way too long for me to try to find them again, and I might as well reread it if that’s the case. Which I’m not completely against at all, but I just want some time in between reading it.
One of the things that I really liked about this novel though, was how welcoming Hanh, Elaine, and Reggie were to Sana when she moved to California and started school. Sure, people assumed that they would end up being quick friends because they are all Asian, but even with that, I could feel a real friendship between the four of them. I get tired of seeing people assume that just because you fall under the “big umbrella” of the same ethnicity – and honestly I feel disgusted saying that – that you’re going to automatically be best friends and love each other. It’s like when people assume that all the Black kids are going to be friends. It’s annoying and it’s just… ugh. Frustrating.
I feel like the more that I sit on this book, rethink about some things that I was going through while reading this, I feel like the discomfort was necessary and brought to light how other minorities can show some racism and prejudice towards other minorities, and how that’s not okay. And the way that Sugiura portrays that in this novel is not a unique thing at all. I’ve seen it in person, I’ve experienced it, I’ve caught myself showing my own prejudices to other ethnicities because I thought that’s what I needed to do to be accepted by my own. I’m so glad that now I see that it’s wrong on all accounts, and I’m proud of myself for unlearning those thoughts and changing my ways.
Even though we are living in a time where people are blatantly racist, and feeling like they can be openly racist because people in power are, there are so many of us in this community and out there that are changing the world for the better. And being able to have discussions about this and relate to both sides of the story hopefully make it easier to understand all around.
So I guess I’m practicing how to do an #ownvoices reflection in preparation for the ones that I’m going to end up writing for the blog tours that I’m doing, so we’ll see how it goes. It’s definitely going to be way shorter than what I’d probably write for the other ones because clearly I’m having issues pulling my thoughts together but, you know. At least it’s here, right?
Now, my mom is not an immigrant, nor Nisen generation or anything like that. My mom isn’t full Japanese either, but our Chamorro culture has aspects of Japanese culture especially due to the Japanese occupation of Guam during WWII, that I’ve had an experience like what Sana and her friends have had. Not just from my mom, but even from my grandma and the other women in my family.
Gosh I don’t even remember how many times I remember the importance of education being ingrained in my head. Which of course, I totally appreciate now and back then. I remember how I would hear my friends’ parents talk about how my mom was too strict on me, and that she didn’t let me have fun or whatever because I genuinely liked school a lot more than anything else. I loved learning more than anything, and honestly I wish that college was free and I could have dedicated a lot more of my time to it because I loved being in the classroom and learning new things, and getting to have these discussions with fellow classmates and teachers. I don’t know, something about actually engaging in these kinds of talks with others that are able to have different opinions but also express them in a respectful way is super intriguing for me. I may not be the smartest person in the world, but I love learning from others.
That may have been a super long-winded, and roundabout way of saying that I totally understand some of the messages that the “Asian moms” impress upon their children. Because those have been impressed upon me as well. And maybe like the girls, I rebelled a little bit as well. Not enough to fully get in trouble, but enough to feel somewhat free.
Though some of the things that the girls did… wow I would never have done that back in my day! I was way too scared of getting caught.
And the sad thing is that I’ve experienced older adults in my family do this, and I get really frustrated at them for doing this. I get that maybe this was what they were taught growing up, and I get that it’s hard to unlearn something after years of thinking it’s okay. But it’s still not okay.
Sometimes these dislikes of other ethnicites and cultures are so deep rooted in our upbringing that we may not even realize it. It’s so frustrating to see and trying to explain that these stereotypes are hurtful and demeaning to others when they don’t want to acknowledge it. And I’m glad that Sana did do her best to get her mom to stop, but then Sana also needed to learn that she was doing some of the same things. And I appreciated that she was called out on her microaggressions as well. She needed it, and hopefully she learned from it as well. I feel like by the end of the novel she learned a little bit, but I know that she isn’t perfect. Nobody is.
Ughhhhhh. This irritated me so much because I’ve been told something similar like this too. How demeaning can people be? This part was during a scene where Sana was spending time with her friends before she moved to California, and the song “California Girls” was playing. She was singing the part about Midwestern farmer girls or something like that and she was showing her love for being a Midwestern girl because duh? That’s where she grew up and she was proud to be a Midwestern girl. What was so wrong with that?
And of course once the other girls started collectively saying “Yeah, we love you Sana! It was so cute!” and whatever, it’s not like she could call out all of them without looking like “the bad guy”. Which of course, POC always have to worry about looking like the “bad guy” and not hurting feelings when we want to just stand up for ourselves. So I understood this so much. And I hated that she was put in that situation so publicly like that, and probably more than once too. It sucks being in that situation, and not feeling safe enough to speak out.
It’s odd that I haven’t seen any other reviews on WordPress honestly, so if you want to see other reviews, here’s the link to Goodreads with everyone’s thoughts. It’s pretty balanced between loved and hated honestly, so I urge you to take all reviews – including mine – with a grain of salt and try it for yourself.
EDIT: I was wrong! Hello, I forgot about Dani’s review which was the reason why I took a while to write my own. So here is Dani’s review.
And yeah. That took me way longer than I wanted it to, but I’m so glad that I was finally able to let my thoughts out for this one. And now I’m back to slowly getting through the rest of my reviews that I didn’t get to write since May, you know?
Although I am about to have a bunch of posts for blog tours again, I’ll still have to catch up eventually. Again, I think about possibly figuring out a way to quit all jobs and just dedicate all my time to reading and reviewing books – and somehow making money that way but still enjoying what I do… Decisions, decisions, right?
See you soon!