Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean

This beautiful blue cover features the portrait of a young woman, done in paper art She has long dark wavy hair, a tiara and is surrounded by flower. The book has a sticker that says "Reese's YA Book Club" and a mentions "The New York Times Bestseller".

by Piyali C.

High schooler Izumi’s life is relatively uneventful with her single mom, her bad tempered terrier mix Tamagotchi, and her Asian Girl Gang (AGG), comprised of three other girls from diverse ethnicity in their primarily white Mount Shasta High School. Sure, it is not always easy being Japanese American in a mostly white Mount Shasta, California but Izumi has made it work so far. She even changed her to name to Izzy from Izumi for a while to make it easy for others until her friend Noora convinced her otherwise. Izumi’s mother, a Harvard educated botanist, has tried her best to raise Izumi alone with love and support and, for the most part, Izumi is content. She would, however, like to know who her father is. Izumi’s mom refuses to divulge any information about her father. All Izumi knows is that her parents met at Harvard when both were students there, and Izumi is the product of their brief liaison. Izumi’s father does not even know she exists.

One day, while snooping around in her mom’s room ransacking her expensive make-up stash, Izumi’s friend Noora comes across a book Rare Orchids of North America. Noora flips open the book to find a poem in ‘slanted handwriting’ dedicated to Izumi’s mom, Hanako, by someone named Mak. A little research by Noora reveals that the aforesaid Mak is none other than Makotonomiya Toshihito, the Crown Prince of Japan and also Izumi’s father. In other words, Izumi is a princess.

Within days, Izumi’s life is turned upside down when a simple email sent by her to her parents’ common friend inquiring about the Crown Prince results in her father finding out that she exists. She travels to Japan at her father’s invitation, a country she always dreamed of visiting, as a princess, complete with Royal Imperial Guard and cavalcade. But being a princess comes at a cost. Izumi has to navigate palace protocols, conniving cousins, royal etiquette, learning a new language, paparazzi, and her own romantic feelings for the head of her Royal Imperial Guard. On top of all this, she has to build a relationship with her father, the Crown Prince. Both the father and daughter grow and evolve in their relationship as they learn to be a parent and child. But life is not a fairy tale even in this modern day fairy tale. A betrayal of trust almost destroys Izumi’s budding relationship with her extended imperial family, her love as well as her newly found father.

While writing a heart warming, happy story of love and discovery, Emiko Jean very effectively interweaves the universal dilemma of Asian Americans (or any minority for that matter) about whether they belong or where they belong. Izumi is never ‘fully’ American in Mount Shasta, California and she is never ‘fully’ Japanese when she travels to Japan. That uncertainty is true in the lives of most immigrants and the author makes a very convincing case in her delightful novel Tokyo Ever After.

Pick up this book when your brain craves some respite from all that it is dealing with. Let this book take you to a world where you know the end will be happy even if the means to the end is full of twists and turns, ups and downs. Let the story convince you of ‘happily ever afters.’

David Yoon, author of Frankly in Love, sums the book up perfectly – “Emiko’s flair for sumptuous detail —- Food! Castles! Swoony confessions! Court Drama! Cherry blossoms by the million! —locked me up helplessly into a world of splendor I never wanted to leave.” This young adult story elicited a satisfied yet wistful sigh from me as I turned the last page and it also ignited a burning desire to visit the city of Kyoto. One day…..

Tokyo Ever After is available in print and eBook format through Overdrive/Libby.

Piyali is an instructor and research specialist at the Miller Branch of HCLS, where she co-facilitates both Global Reads and Strictly Historical Fiction.

My Teacher Blew Up the Moon: Assassination Classroom by Yusei Matsui

Bright yellow cover has a broad smile and two pinpoint black eyes under the title.

by Khaleel G.

The old saying goes, “Don’t judge a book by its cover” – but what about a title? 

Assassination Classroom is a manga whose title initially repelled me. Even with its bright and simple covers, I looked at a volume, read the back description, and wondered if this was another manga like Death Note. You know, that sort of intensely serious story, full of extended monologues about power and authority, each chapter twisting into the next. Because, after reading Death Note, I was satisfied; I didn’t need another version of that grim-dark comic book. With a title like “Assassination Classroom,” how could this series be anything else?

Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Assassination Classroom has an overall story, yes, and it certainly has intrigue: spies and soldiers working in the shadows of government organizations, with alphabet soup names. But mostly, it’s a gag manga. Yes, the manga about a class of teens attempting to kill their omnipotent teacher is, shockingly, mostly about dumb jokes and silly characters learning about themselves. 

One day, the moon suddenly explodes. The culprit makes himself known to the world with a declaration: I will destroy the world in one year’s time, unless I am stopped. He is a monster of superhuman strength and speed, who then demands the world government let him…teach a class of lovable misfits? Did I mention the monster is tentacled, bright yellow, and wears a classical teacher outfit with a robe and square hat? 

In another author’s hands, this premise would be deathly serious in tone. But here, author Yusei Matsui takes all that global turmoil and high stakes and makes it super light-hearted. Koro-sensei (a pun on “to kill” in Japanese) has threatened to destroy the world, yes, but he also wants to actually teach these kids – not only about science, math, and literature, but growing up and being a better person, too. And uh, also firearms, subterfuge, and assassination techniques, as he playfully dodges their barrages of bullets, all while offering praise and critiques.

Over 21 volumes, we meet the students and fellow staff at the school, watching them react to this absurdity. Nagisa, the closest thing to a protagonist we have, was bullied for his small frame, but under Koro-sensei’s tutelage, he learns how to accept himself and be confident. Mr. Karasuma is a military officer charged with overseeing Koro-sensei, but as he teaches both gym and martial arts, he softens into a capable instructor. Even Miss Jelavic, a trained assassin disguised as an English instructor, learns that education is a two-way street – as you teach, you learn more than you’d imagine.

Yes, it is corny! Underneath the global plot to destroy a banana-colored octopus, the story is heartfelt and honest. I was fairly effected by the series’ conclusion, despite the tonal clash throughout. The simple and cartoonish art makes the characters more personable, making both the jokes and earnest conversations more meaningful. No one is some “cool” and impervious hero – they’re students and teachers, goofing off while learning how to be better than they are.

In this way, Assassination Classroom resembles a coming-of-age school story, like Ouran High School Host Club (with guns) or Naruto (but far less serious). Its title hides the lightness of plot, how quickly and jovially it moves from school trip to midterms to holiday breaks. The result is a pleasure to read, for its stream of gags and touching moments, for Koro-sensei’s silly faces and his quips of honest wisdom.

Be aware though – this is a title for older teens and adults. The violence of the series is mostly unserious, but the lives of these students and teachers sometimes share the mature themes of the best of Young Adult literature. Bullies, abuse, and family trauma are the dangers in these characters’ lives, not the moon-destroying creature who can move at Mach-20. Still, this is a comedy series first and foremost, and these more “real” themes come forth only in certain moments, and never in a way that I found triggering.

I really enjoyed my time with Assassination Classroom, and was delighted to see how wrong I was to judge this one by its title.
 
Assassination Classroom is 21 volumes and is available in print from HCLS branches.

Khaleel has worked at the Miller Branch since 2015, though he’s been back and forth between HCLS and high school, college, an

Slay by Brittney Morris

A slightly pixelated picture of a young Black woman with long natural hair and glasses features the quote, "I am a queen and this is my game."

by Eliana H.

“We meet at dawn.” Characters in the online virtual role-playing game Slay confirm duels with that line. In Slay, author Brittney Morris builds two worlds. She shows us the real-life world of high school senior Kiera Johnson, one of the only Black students at Jefferson Academy. We also get a glimpse inside the world of Slay, a video game that Kiera built from the ground up to celebrate Black cultures from around the world. In the game, Kiera is Emerald, a queen who cares for the tens of thousands of players, who use cards inspired by everything from Louis Armstrong to natural hairstyles to battle virtually. But the game Slay is a secret from everyone in Kiera’s real life, as she is confident that none of her friends or family would really understand and appreciate it. The only person Kiera can talk to about the game is Cicada, a friend she met through the game who is now a moderator, but Cicada and Emerald only exchange messages on Whatsapp and don’t know each other’s real names or locations. 

Kiera is preparing to graduate high school, looking ahead to her life in college and beyond, and planning for her future with her boyfriend, Malcolm. She is doing pretty well handling the stress of keeping her worlds separate, until one day when she sees on the news that a boy in Kansas City was killed in his sleep over a disagreement based in Slay. Kiera is devastated, tortured by the guilt she feels that what she created could lead to such a horrific event. Was it her fault? Adding to her distress is the analysis from pundits discussing whether Slay – which is designed specifically for Black players, and which you need a passcode to join – is racist. Of course, many “experts” declare that anything made for Black people and not explicitly welcoming white people is inherently racist. But all Kiera wanted was a place where others like her, who so often find themselves in a world trying to erase them, could shine as the kings and queens that they are. 

Over the course of the book, readers see snippets of other players’ experiences and journey with Kiera through her struggles to face the hard truth of who is threatening to destroy everything she worked so hard to build. 

Slay is also available from HCLS as an ebook through OverDrive/Libby.

Eliana is a Children’s Instructor and Research Specialist at HCLS Elkridge Branch. She loves reading, even if she’s slow at it, and especially enjoys helping people find books that make them light up. She also loves being outside and spending time with friends and family (when it’s safe).