REVIEW: It’s Not Like It’s a Secret by Misa Sugiura

Sixteen-year-old Sana Kiyohara has too many secrets. Some are small, like how it bothers her when her friends don’t invite her to parties. Some are big, like that fact that her father may be having an affair. And then there’s the one that she can barely even admit to herself—the one about how she might have a crush on her best friend.

When Sana and her family move to California she begins to wonder if it’s finally time for some honesty, especially after she meets Jamie Ramirez. Jamie is beautiful and smart and unlike anyone Sana’s ever known. There are just a few problems: Sana’s new friends don’t trust Jamie’s crowd; Jamie’s friends clearly don’t want her around anyway; and a sweet guy named Caleb seems to have more-than-friendly feelings for her. Meanwhile, her dad’s affair is becoming too obvious to ignore anymore.

Sana always figured that the hardest thing would be to tell people that she wants to date a girl, but as she quickly learns, telling the truth is easy… what comes after it, though, is a whole lot more complicated.

Genre(s): YA, Contemporary, Romance
Publisher:
HarperTeen
Release date:
May 9, 2017
Book links*:
Goodreads | Book Depository | IndieBound

Representation: WLW (gay / questioning) Japanese-American MC, gay Mexican-American love interest, interracial F/F relationship, Asian-American friend group, Latinx-American friend group, diverse minor characters

Content warnings: (click to show)

racism, homophobia & aggressive heteronormativity, infidelity, underage drinking, mentions of drug use

*These include affiliate links, which means that if you click through and buy a book I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. [Full disclaimers here.]

5 stars

I have so many feelings about this book, holy wow. Naturally I’m predisposed to want to like novels about LGBTQIA+ Asian-American characters, but this one absolutely exceeded my expectations. The way it handles issues of discrimination and prejudice — as well as the messiness and vulnerability of adolescence and of interpersonal relationships — is absolutely masterful; I wish my younger (i.e., late 2000s / early 2010s) self had this book to refer to.

The social issues are a little on the heavier side in terms of frequency and influence on the narrative, which is not a bad thing at all. Having grown up in the SF Bay Area myself, I could relate to Sana’s complex but generally strong relationship with her parents as well as the general (East) Asian-American culture that’s so wonderfully present: from Sana’s mother’s idioms, to the food they cook together, to the stories Sana’s father tells her, to the way Sana and her friends joke about overbearing Asian parents. Also, the discussions of Asian flush really made me realize how many YA books I’ve read that involve underage drinking … yet how few of those same books have prominent enough Asian characters to merit even a mention of this unfortunate side effect. So in short, I felt right at home with so much of this book — though I personally can’t speak to the Latinx (specifically Mexican and Mexican-American) representation, I thought it was pretty respectful in its acknowledgment of stereotypes and levels of privilege. Also, I adore the way translations for the Japanese and Spanish dialogue are integrated into the reply or narration instead of restating what was just said!

In addition to sympathetic, relatable characters, this narrative demonstrates astounding development. Sana makes mistakes, but the others — from her parents to Jamie to her friends — aren’t blameless either, and the scenes where Sana puzzles over culpability and morality rang incredibly true to me. I particularly loved that she took responsibility for her own actions throughout, not just at the end, and the fact that she tries to justify some of her behavior feels accurate and relatable, especially when I think back to my own teenage years: she did wrong, but it wasn’t entirely her fault. And I can absolutely relate to getting swept up in a crush, then a first relationship, then what turns into a pretty messy situation.

The plot is well-paced, balancing the drama with sweet slice-of-life scenes (which include romantic, friendly, and familial wholesomeness!). And the ending was absolutely incredible, bringing satisfying closure to all the main arcs without undermining any of that wonderful development. There is so much trope subversion and diversity, and honestly there aren’t words for how much I love this book.

11 thoughts on “REVIEW: It’s Not Like It’s a Secret by Misa Sugiura

  1. Now that you mention it… I actually don’t notice any Asian characters who drink in YA books, at least in the ones that I’ve read, so it’s good to hear It’s Not Like a It’s a Secret discusses this! Usually if there is drinking and Asians involved, Asian characters are unfortunately the sober one or don’t drink at all. Or they end up as designated drivers. I love that Misa Sugiura deals with heavy topics and handles the discrimination and prejudice well – and despite the fact your younger self can’t turn back time, it’s better late than never? Maybe I’m too optimistic here. 🤔

    Liked by 1 person

    1. right??? and it’s definitely not that Asian & Asian-American teenagers don’t drink (I was a marching band kid in high school, so trust me I know 😜)

      and tbh I agree, it’s definitely one of those books I think would have been great to read at any age, so I’m really not all that mad that I didn’t have it until now!

      Liked by 1 person

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