Katsuyamas never quit—but seventeen-year-old CJ doesn’t even know where to start. She’s never lived up to her mom’s type A ambition, and she’s perfectly happy just helping her aunt, Hannah, at their family’s flower shop.
She doesn’t buy into Hannah’s romantic ideas about flowers and their hidden meanings, but when it comes to arranging the perfect bouquet, CJ discovers a knack she never knew she had. A skill she might even be proud of.
Then her mom decides to sell the shop—to the family who swindled CJ’s grandparents when thousands of Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps during WWII. Soon a rift threatens to splinter CJ’s family, friends, and their entire Northern California community; and for the first time, CJ has found something she wants to fight for.
Have you ever read a book that made you wish, so deeply, that it had existed just a little bit earlier so that it could have helped you go through a tough part in your life? This Time Will Be Different is definitely that book for me. Specifically, I wish that this book had existed when I was a teenager – when I was grappling with the big questions that all teens face: Where is my place in the world? What do I care about so deeply that I can dedicate myself to? And when I see something that doesn’t sound right, how do I speak up?
This Time Will Be Different tackles these questions – and does so with so much compassion and empathy. And I loved this book, for that, so much. The story follows CJ, a Japanese-American teen who doesn’t really quite know what she wants to do with her life or what she’s good at – until she discovers that she has a knack for flower arranging at her aunt’s flower shop. But when her mum decides to sell the store to the family who stole it from their grandparents during the Japanese internment, CJ realises that she can change her family shop’s fate if she speaks up.
Honestly? I love this story with my whole heart and it’s one of my favourite contemporary reads of 2019. And if you haven’t heard of this book, or need some convincing on why you need to read this book, I’ve come prepared with five fabulous reasons why you need to read This Time Will Be Different.
1. A story that embraces the messiness and complexity of life
I love stories that acknowledge that people, even main characters and especially teenage characters, are not perfect and that life can be complex. This Time Will Be Different embraces the messiness and complexity of life, while also showing that the challenges of mess can lead to phenomenal personal growth. In particular, I loved that CJ made a lot of mistakes across the story and that the other characters in the story were not perfect – not only did it demonstrate that life is full of mistakes, the vulnerable narrative also offered so much room for growth and learning. In this book, the characters feel like real and authentic people who have their own stories, their own baggage, and their own flaws, making the story feel so… honest and empathetic.
2. Features an endearing, earnest, and imperfect heroine that grows
I loved CJ so much as a heroine, and if you loved flawed but earnest protagonists, then you will love her too. CJ was a fantastic character, and I loved how earnest she was; sometimes she runs her mouth and sometimes she lets her insecurities get the better of her (because hasn’t that happened to everyone at some point?), but the story also shows that she is so loyal and would go out of her way to protect her friends.
I also loved that the story, through CJ’s own journey, that there are people, especially young people, who don’t know what they want to do with their life and don’t fit into ‘high-powered’, ‘straight-A student’ and ‘ambitious’ stereotype that we often see in YA characters. Instead, the story is so honest about CJ’s many half-hearted endeavours and many failures in her attempts to find her calling; I appreciated that This Time Will Be Different was candid about how our failures can shape us and ultimately lead us along to a path that feels more authentic to who we really are.
3. Highlights the importance of social justice and the power of protest
As well as a really relatable story about being a teen navigating life, This Time Will Be Different also explores the historical and generational impact of the Japanese-American interment during World War II. When CJ’s mum suggests selling their family flower shop, which they repurchased after it was stolen from them during the Japanese Internment, CJ decides to take justice into her own hands by protesting, while learning to navigate social justice, allyship, and the challenges that come with speaking up and fighting against the tide of racist history and for reparations. I loved how empowering this story is – that teens working in solidarity and fighting for something is important to them can change things.
4. Tackles sexism, racism, and the model minority in an accessible way
What I also really loved about This Time Will Be Different is that it tackles a range of issues in a way that feels organic to CJ’s story. For instance, the story explores the impact of sexism, the rippling effects of racism, but also the intersections of both sexism and racism and how, in particular, it affects Asian women. The story also confronts the model minority myth, explaining what it is in a way that isn’t heavy-handed but delves into how it impacts different minorities and identities.
Moreover, This Time Will Be Different also explores more personal topics too – such as unplanned pregnancies, being a young mother, family histories, and the double jeopardy of being a single mother and an Asian woman. Best of all, This Time Will Be Different explores all of these issues in a way that is approachable and accessible, in a way that allows room for the reader to grow with CJ.
5. Has a beautiful romance that blooms and grows – between two Asian leads
Though this book explores a variety of things, I also genuinely enjoyed and loved the book’s incredibly sweet romance! Regretfully, we don’t see a lot of Asian love interests, and I love that this is starting to change – including with This Time Will Be Different and that the love interest in this book is a bisexual Asian boy! Furthermore, the relationship that grows between CJ and the love interest is so wholesome and lovely; a sweet friends-to-lovers romance arc that has a few bumps in the road, a little bit of angst, and inclusion of a few hilarious but charming tropes that will makes reading the story so much fun.
MY CONCLUSION: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Ah, I loved this book so much! I wish I could have done this book greater justice with my review, but this is genuinely one of the few times where my love for a book has surpassed mere simple words. This Time Will Be Different is refreshing, socially and culturally relevant, and such an empathetic and genuine story. I loved this immensely, and I cannot recommend this enough to all YA contemporary lovers out there.
Is this book for you?
Premise in a sentence: A Japanese-American teen fights to protect her family’s flower shop from falling into the hands of the family who unjustly took their shop during the Japanese Internship during World War II.
Perfect for: readers who love contemporary; readers who love reading about issues that aren’t overtly heavy; readers who love soft romances.
Think twice if: readers who aren’t a fan of flawed heroines.
Genre: young adult, romance, contemporary
Trigger/content warning: discussions of pregnancy and abortion, teen pregnancy, racism (challenged), anti-gay rhetoric (challenged), white feminism, sexism, familial conflict
As well as Love from A to Z, I feel like This Time Will Be Different has made me feel so satisfied with the YA contemporary/romances that we have seen release in 2019. Gah! I just love this book so much but just lack the words to express all my love for it.
I’m looking forward to reading whatever Misa Sugiura releases next. Unfortunately we will have to wait for her next book to release in 2021 – but I know that it’ll be worth the wait. I can’t wait!
- Have you read This Time Will Be Different? What did you think?
- What is your favourite YA contemporary of this year?
- What is a book that taught you more about history that you didn’t really learn in school?