I’m a fan of Jean’s works, having loved Tokyo Ever After, and so I knew I wanted to read Jean’s adult debut. And I had an amazing and surprisingly emotional time reading Mika in Real Life. If you are tangentially related to adoption – like me – then keep reading this book review.
One phone call changes everything.
At thirty-five, Mika Suzuki’s life is a mess. Her last relationship ended in flames. Her roommate-slash-best friend might be a hoarder. She’s a perpetual disappointment to her traditional Japanese parents. And, most recently, she’s been fired from her latest dead-end job.
Mika is at her lowest point when she receives a phone call from Penny—the daughter she placed for adoption sixteen years ago. Penny is determined to forge a relationship with her birth mother, and in turn, Mika longs to be someone Penny is proud of. Faced with her own inadequacies, Mika embellishes a fact about her life. What starts as a tiny white lie slowly snowballs into a fully-fledged fake life, one where Mika is mature, put-together, successful in love and her career.
The details of Mika’s life might be an illusion, but everything she shares with curious, headstrong Penny is real: her hopes, dreams, flaws, and Japanese heritage. The harder-won heart belongs to Thomas Calvin, Penny’s adoptive widower father. What starts as a rocky, contentious relationship slowly blossoms into a friendship and, over time, something more. But can Mika really have it all—love, her daughter, the life she’s always wanted? Or will Mika’s deceptions ultimately catch up to her? In the end, Mika must face the truth—about herself, her family, and her past—and answer the question, just who is Mika in real life?
(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
TW: rape, sexism, racism
Mika in Real Life took me on an emotional journey. As someone who is adopted, yet has no real chance of finding my birth mother, Penny and Mika’s story is one that is unexpectedly emotional. And a domestic transracial adoptee as well! While it’s not dual POV and only tells Mika’s story, I loved Mika’s character. How the past has a way of coming back to us and asking questions. Her own feelings of guilt, anger, and sadness as she remembers giving up Penny and her feelings, were heart wrenching.
But where Mika in Real Life excels is how universal Mika’s feeling is. How there’s this temptation for wanting our lives to be better than they are. To cover up our own insecurity, and how much we want to be able to live a life that is different than ours. Who doesn’t feel that way sometimes or always? So while Mika’s mistakes and lies are born from this place of wanting to not disappoint the people we love, it becomes instantly relatable.
But like all houses built of lies and cards, the chance of them crumbling with the wind is almost always certain. That’s not where Mika in Real Life ends though. Jean pushes Mika to process her past and decisions as they come flooding back towards her. How searching for others to be proud of us can leave us hollow and how it reflects our own internal feelings. We can be waiting for someone to see us, but all along we wish we could see ourselves. Emotional in every way, Mika in Real Life is a story about choosing and following a life that makes us happy – that we can find pride in ourselves. Find Mika in Real Life on Goodreads, Amazon, Indiebound, Bookshop.org & The Book Depository.