I think I’ve at least attempted all of Emiko Jean’s books at this point. Her fantasy didn’t work for me, but her YA contemporary duology is a recent favourite. So when I saw that she was releasing an adult contemporary, I knew I had to give it a go. I’ll be honest, with this book being focused on adoption, I wasn’t sure what I’d expect but what I got was a very well-thought-out, very emotional and enjoyable book.
Just a quick warning before I go into the review but this one will contain some spoilers.
Mika in Real Life follows Mika, a 35-year-old Japanese-American woman who gave up her daughter for adoption when she was only 19. Now her daughter has contacted her. Mika feels like she’s a failure, so she does what she thinks is best. She lies to her so Penny won’t be embarrassed to be related to her.
Usually, I hate when books focus on lying. You always know it’s going to come back and bite them in the ass, which can be cringy and frustrating. I want the characters to get caught out as they deserve what was coming to them. In this book, I felt for Mika. Yes, she shouldn’t have lied. But she was doing so for what she thought was a good reason, and the lying is caught out well before the end. It means you get to see Mika realise her mistakes and work to improve herself. I appreciated that as the reason she lied was because she didn’t like where she was.
I will say that this book needs trigger warnings about child abuse and also rape. This is a major spoiler, but it’s something that I think most people would rather know. Penny was a child born out of rape. Mika never felt like she could report it and that’s partly why she’s so stuck. She gave up on something she loved and was never able to find something she loved as much. As well as that, her parents are somewhat abusive. It’s not quite that she was hit or locked up or anything. But her parents are emotionally negligent. When Mika comes out and admits she was raped, her mother tells her to get over it as bad things happen to everyone- she had to move to the US from Japan when she didn’t want to after all. That scene just hit me, and not in a good way. I couldn’t understand how any parent could react that way when their child admits that to them. But at the same time, that sadly felt realistic. Not all parents are good, and seeing the contrast between Mika’s mum and the type of mum she wants to be.
You can see how this book was very emotional. There’s a lot of talk of adoption, especially of transracial adoption. Penny felt like she was missing out on part of herself being raised by a white family. She still loved her parents and was happy to have them there. But she wanted the chance to be a little more Japanese. Spending time with Mika and her parents, she finally gets a chance to experience some of that. It’s a difficult topic as obviously any adoption is good provided the parents are good, but sometimes just adopting a child from a different culture or race can be damaging. It’s something I’ve seen a lot about online, so it was interesting to read a book about it. Especially one that felt so well done.
That said…I don’t have those experiences myself, so I’d listen to other reviewers over people who have had those experiences over me.
As well as all the emotional contents, this book had some really funny moments. I loved Mika and her friends. They were all good to each other, and it made reading their scenes a joyous experience. As well as friendship, this book also features some romance, and I did appreciate the relationship. It’s a bit of a slow burn, but it definitely felt worth it in the end. There was some good banter, and I’d like to see more.
The biggest aspect of the book that I enjoyed was actually the growing relationship between Mika and Penny. Obviously, Penny doesn’t see Mika much as a mother figure as she had a mum. She was grieving for her mum still in her own way. But they do strike up a close friendship. It was heart-warming to read and I loved it so much. It felt almost like found family, but they were technically already related. That was pretty fun.
Emiko Jean is a force to be reckoned with on the contemporary scene, and I’ll read anything she writes at this point.
Title: Mika In Real Life
Author: Emiko Jean
Age Range: Adult
Publisher: Michael Joseph
Release Date: 8/9/2022