Secret ingredient to spice up drama





By Misa Sugiura (New York: HarperCollins, 2017, 400 pp., $17.99, hard cover)

Secrets are hard to discuss in the open, especially when layered deep in teenage drama. For Sana Kiyohara,  those secrets come in the form of her sexual orientation, her suspicion of her father having a mistress and her drive to rebel against her parents as teenagers tend to do. Written by Misa Sugiura, who formerly taught high school English in San Jose, “It’s Not Like It’s a Secret” brings to life a familiar San Jose with streets, stores and scenes familiar to those who grew up in the South Bay.

Yet, Sana’s life is just one fictionalized account of an amalgamation of high school girls living in San Jose. Her story provides insight, but is by no means representative. She is a fish-out-of-water, having recently moved from Wisconsin for her father’s new job. She treats her mother’s “tiger mom” mentality as unique, whereas she quickly learns from her new Asian friends that this was normal for them as well. Her parents, also being both from Japan, lend to a Nikkei perspective more similar to Shin-Nisei life than that of Yonsei or Gosei kids.

Sana’s mother sometimes comes off as a caricature. She is portrayed as an immigrant who is derisive and distrustful of non-Asians and embodies an extreme spirit of gaman (endurance through hardship) in doing what’s best for the family over personal gain.

“It’s Not Like It’s a Secret” also navigates the intricacies of cliques and race in a high school setting. Sana must not only sort out her feelings for liking another girl, she is also confronted with dealing with her own Asian identity, especially in relationship to Jamie, her Latina crush, and her circle of friends. She also navigates making friends with other Asian students, where she finds kindred spirits who share her woes over “Asian Mom Syndrome.”

Multicultural and accepting of lesbian experiences, “It’s Not Like It’s a Secret” deals with some difficult questions and may push the boundaries of its readers. It also promotes honesty and the frankness that is important to nurturing trust and understanding within a family or a romantic relationship.

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