New York: Simon Pulse, 2017 (340 pages)
Kiko is nervous. Always anxious. She’s afraid that she won’t get into Prism, the New York art school; she’s afraid to be around anyone but her best friend Emery, and she’s constantly worried about getting her mom’s approval. But her mom Angelina is hard to please, actually impossible to please. Kiko, her elder brother Taro and younger brother Shoji all live with their blonde, beautiful Anglo mother Angelina; she received full custody after their Japanese father basically abandoned them. But Kiko doesn’t blame him. She blames herself. Her dad and mom would still be together if Kiko hadn’t made things difficult with her “story” about Uncle Max. At least that’s what her mom tells her. So Kiko retreats into herself, and is jealous of Taro, who seems to be so good at deflecting their mom’s relentless criticism, and of Shoji, who has learned to keep to himself. But things take a turn for the worse when Angelina invites Uncle Max to dinner. Kiko escapes by accepting an invitation to a party, where she sees Jamie Merrick, of all people. Jamie, her childhood best friend. Jamie, the boy Kiko has loved since forever. Jamie’s back in town to visit family, but Kiko, despite her reservations and anxiety, is drawn to Jamie just as Jamie is drawn to Kiko. News that Kiko didn’t get into Prism, followed by Emery’s departure to college, along with Angelina allowing creepy Uncle Max to move back in with them pushes Kiko toward Jamie. Then, when Max enters Kiko’s bedroom in the night, Kiko has had enough. She runs away from home to Jamie’s cousin’s house, and Jamie convinces Kiko to come home with him to California for a few weeks so she can look for art schools there. At this point, Kiko has nothing to lose, so she accepts. In California, the two friends visit 3 art schools, and Kiko sees a flyer advertising an incredible art show by Hiroshi Matsumoto. The friends go, and Jamie, to Kiko’s unending mortification, shows the artist some of Kiko’s work. This begins an unexpected friendship between Kiko and the artist; he allows her to use his studio to get a portfolio together for art school. In Matsumoto and his Japanese family, Kiko finally feels at home, even though her heart still yearns for her mother’s acceptance and approval. Kiko and Jamie move closer together, but Kiko is concerned that she is using Jamie like a crutch–she’s dependent on him to get her through life, heavily relying on him, just like she relied on Emery, to protect her and be a shield between herself and the world. Her time in California is coming to a close, but Matsumoto’s wife invites Kiko to stay and work in the family cafe below the studio. Kiko accepts, and through her art she’s slowly accepting herself, and in distancing herself from her mother, and hearing about Matsumoto’s difficulty living up to his own father’s expectations, Kiko sees Angelina for the narcissist that she is. And her new energy and focus gets her into one of the art schools she applied to, Brightwood. But when news that Shijo has attempted suicide, Kiko must give up everything to move back to Nebraska. In the emotionally stressful time, Kiko admits all her fears to Elouise, Jamie’s mom. It is at this time that the truth comes out. Angelina was the one who had the affair…with Jamie’s dad. Kiko is angry with Jamie for keeping the secret this whole time, and decides to distance herself from him. Angelina barely admits to her infidelity, and immediately defends herself as the victim, but Kiko stands firm and is finally able to stand up to her mom’s bullying and lying. Shoji moves in with their dad, and Kiko joins him soon after. Jamie tries to gain his way back into Kiko’s heart, but Kiko holds off–that is until she is called by an admissions officer from Prism, who offers her a place in the school the following year. Kiko finds out that she has Jamie and Matsumoto to thank. Kiko can move back to California, attend Brightwood, then Prism, and renew her efforts to heal herself away from her mom’s destructive gravitational pull.
Tags: Anxiety disorder, dysfunctional family, light romance, coping, friendship, realistic fiction