Themes: Cultural Differences, Friendship, Romance
Audience: Young Adult
Publisher: Harper Teen
Released: May 9, 2017
I didn’t love this book the way I expected to from the blurb. It’s Not Like it’s a Secret is a story about Sana, a Japanese American girl who moves to California. Here, for the first time in her life, she has to balance making friends and exploring her sexuality with the strict values of her culture. Normally, I’d be all over this. Novels about first love and the conflict of cultures are some of my favourites, and yet a couple of things prevented me from enjoying it as much as I might have done.
One issue the author handles brilliantly is that of racism. We’re all aware of the discrimination those of colour suffer at the hands of white people, which is what makes the Black Lives Matter movement so important. However, I had no idea such prejudice exists within minorities. For instance, Sana’s Japanese mother has strong views on other ethnic groups—that Mexicans are lazy and the Chinese can’t be trusted. The fact that such intolerance remains, even somewhere like California, frankly shocks me.
I also adored Sana’s love interest, and not simply because she happens to share my name! Jamie might be the same age as Sana, but she seems so much more mature. She’s gentle and warm, but possesses a grit and determination to succeed despite the prejudice she endures due to her Mexican heritage. It’s easy to see why Sana is smitten from the instant she meets Jamie, and it was wonderful to watch the tentative romance develop between the two girls.
Sadly, I didn’t find Sana herself to be an especially sympathetic protagonist. Of course, I get that the whole point of the story is the development of Sana’s character, and how she becomes stronger and more assertive by the end. I also completely understand why she’s the way she is in the beginning. How could she be anything else when she’s been brought up to endure and not rock the boat? Still, the fact that Sana’s such a passive personality for much of the story made for uncomfortable reading.
Another thing that spoilt my enjoyment was Sana’s three female friends, who, quite apart from being one-dimensional, irritated the life out of me. Perhaps I’m being unfair. After all, it’s been a good couple of decades—wow, what a scary thought—since I was a teenager. Quite possibly the author’s portrayal is spot on and many teenage girls truly are as silly and giggly as this trio. Still, accurate or not, I infinitely preferred the scenes with Jamie or those with Caleb and his crowd.
For a sweet story that explores a range of issues—racism and cultural differences, identity and first love, honesty and courage—It’s Not Like it’s a Secret by Misa Sugiura gets 6/10 rainbows.
About the Book
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.
About Misa Sugiura
Misa Sugiura’s ancestors include a poet, a priestess, a samurai, and a stowaway. Her first novel It’s Not Like It’s A Secret, won the Asian Pacific Islander American Librarians’ Association’s Award for Young Adult Literature; her highly acclaimed second novel, This Time Will Be Different, made the Best of 2019 lists of YALSA, Kirkus Reviews, the New York Public Library, and the Chicago Public Library. Her short story, Where I’m From appears in Come On In, a young adult anthology about immigration.
Misa was born in Chicago, earned a B.A. in English at Princeton University, and taught English as a second language in Japan before moving back to the States to earn her M.Ed at Stanford University. She taught English at a local public high for several years before “retiring” to be a stay-at-home parent. Currently, she lives and writes under a giant oak tree with her husband, two sons, and two cats.