Seeking happily ever after in Little Tokyo

FROM LITTLE TOKYO WITH LOVE

By Sarah Kuhn (Toronto, Ontario: Viking Books for Young Readers, 2021, 432 pp., $24.99, hard cover)

A clever, funny, romp of a story that is “not a fairytale” begins: “Once upon a time, a beautiful princess lived in the magical kingdom of Los Angeles. Always alone, she belonged to no one — and no one belonged to her. She dreamed of one day finding someone who shared her passions, a handsome prince obsessed with monstrous mythical creatures and exploring all the weirdest corners of the kingdom.”

Rika lives with her Auntie Suzy, her wife Auntie Och, and cousins with Disney princess names, Belle and Rory (or Aurora), in Little Tokyo. Losing her mother at birth, Rika has always felt alone. While she tries to hide in the shadows, Rika feels that her wavy tangled hair with red hues and her mixed heritage stand out — especially in the Japantown neighborhood she loves. While Belle is consumed with Nikkei Week court duties, Rika must figure out how to steal away to the judo dojo for the martial arts demonstration. When Auntie Suzy insists that she must work an extra shift at the family restaurant, Katsu This, Rika tries hard to repress the anger welling up inside. She concocts a plan of escape by offering to drive the queen court in the parade, then unexpectedly careens into the handsome Asian American teen idol Hank Chen who is lurking near her aunt’s red convertible Mustang.

In “From Little Tokyo With Love,” Sarah Kuhn’s characters are hilarious, vulnerable, feisty and colorfully adorned. What one discovers is much more than a love story, even though her real mother might be the famed rom-com actress Grace Kimura. When the pressure builds, we learn that Rika’s “could be” mother also coaches her love interest Henry through panic attacks as his career begins to soar and he is flooded under the spotlight.

Kuhn casts a magical spell on Little Tokyo through the corners, alleyways and little known spaces that Rika finds comfort, behind the mochi shop on First Street or in the garden of the community center. And as Rika and Henry follow clues to find her mother and steal away to spend time together, other LA spots with hidden histories like the Grand Market, Griffith Park Zoo, and Santa Monica pier are discovered.

“From Little Tokyo With Love” is a search for a sense of self, of place and belonging. Is there a happily ever after in Little Tokyo? 

Sarah Kuhn is the author of the popular Heroine Complex novels, a series starring Asian American superheroines. Her YA debut, the Japan-set romantic comedy, “I Love You So Mochi,” was a Junior Library Guild selection and a nominee for the Young Adult Library Services Association’s Best Fiction for Young Adults. She has also penned a variety of short fiction and comics, including the critically acclaimed graphic novel “Shadow of the Batgirl” for DC Comics and the Star Wars audiobook original “Doctor Aphra” (Star Wars). A third-generation Japanese American, she lives in Los Angeles with her husband and an overflowing closet of vintage treasures.

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