There’s no shortage of YA novels in which a commoner gets involved with a royal family and/or discovers their royal lineage, but as enjoyable as this trope is, most of these novels involve British or European monarchies. Emiko Jean’s Tokyo Ever After sets a thoroughly modern fairy tale in the Imperial House of Japan.
Seventeen-year-old Izumi Tanaka has never felt like she completely belongs in her insular, mostly white Northern California town. Sure, she loves and admires her single mom, and she absolutely adores her small group of pan-Asian friends, who’ve dubbed themselves the “Asian Girl Gang,” or AGG for short. (“Think less organized crime, more ‘Golden Girls.’”). But unlike her friends, Izumi has no clear idea what’s next after senior year or why she feels so adrift.
Then Izumi’s friend Noora discovers an evocative love note hidden in one of Izumi’s mom’s books, dated with Izumi’s birth year, and traces it to none other than the crown prince of Japan. Izumi is intrigued: Surely it’s impossible that her dad could be someone so distinguished, right? But when Izumi’s mom—and soon after, an entourage from the Japanese Embassy, followed closely by an entourage from the Japanese tabloid media—confirms the truth, Izumi is whisked off to Tokyo to meet the royal family she didn’t know she had.
In addition to her lack of Japanese language skills, Izumi struggles with constant scrutiny from some of her particularly judgmental relatives, her hot yet chilly bodyguard and members of the press. But she is charmed by Japan’s beauty, and her father and other family members welcome her warmly, even when she makes missteps by wearing inappropriately casual clothing or choosing the wrong knife at dinner.
Jean impeccably blends Izumi’s thoroughly American sensibilities with a fond and cheerful depiction of Japanese culture. Izumi and her love interest even confess their feelings to each other using waka, a traditional poetic form, instead of letters. Along with excerpts from the Tokyo Tattler and the AGG’s group text, Izumi’s vulnerable yet brash first-person narration propels the novel forward and gives it a contemporary feel despite the thousands of years of tradition underpinning her experiences. Readers in search of a witty fairy tale that delivers plenty of romance and glamour should look no further than Tokyo Ever After.