Izumi Tanaka has never really felt like she fit in—it isn’t easy being Japanese American in her small, mostly white, northern California town. Raised by a single mother, it’s always been Izumi—or Izzy, because “It’s easier this way”—and her mom against the world. But then Izzy discovers a clue to her previously unknown father’s identity…and he’s none other than the Crown Prince of Japan. Which means outspoken, irreverent Izzy is literally a princess.
In a whirlwind, Izzy travels to Japan to meet the father she never knew and discover the country she always dreamed of. But being a princess isn’t all ball gowns and tiaras. There are conniving cousins, a hungry press, a scowling but handsome bodyguard who just might be her soulmate, and thousands of years of tradition and customs to learn practically overnight.
Izzy soon finds herself caught between worlds, and between versions of herself—back home, she was never “American” enough, and in Japan, she must prove she’s “Japanese” enough. Will Izumi crumble under the weight of the crown, or will she live out her fairytale, happily ever after?
I was provided an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review by the book’s publicist.
When I was a young child watching The Princess Diaries and witnessed Mia Thermopolis, an otherwise ordinary American teenager, become the princess of Genovia, this sparked a childish dream and fantasy: what if I was a secret princess too? Of course, as I grew up, I knew that I wasn’t, but it was fun to dream. I suppose this dream slept dormant within me, because by the time I finished reading the second chapter of Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean, I felt like I was experiencing my wish fulfilment fantasy.
Tokyo Ever After follows Izumi, an absolutely ordinary Japanese-American teenager who discovers that she is a princess, daughter to the Crown Prince of Japan. When the media discovers her secret heritage, Izumi travels to Japan to join her father to discover who she is and the person that she can be. In between learning Japanese, etiquette, and what it takes to be a good Japanese princess, she also finds herself falling for the cold yet dutiful bodyguard assigned to her.
Written with so much warmth and humour, Tokyo Ever After has a delightful light-hearted tone that feels like a balm for the soul. I felt so comforted by the storytelling; pages in, I could tell that this was the kind of book that would whisk me away into a gorgeous dream-like fantasy. Reading this book made me feel so gooey and warm and fuzzy inside. Izumi was an instantly likeable character and I felt comforted by how ordinary she was. She’s not a straight-A student, nor does she try to be. Rather, we are presented with a very ordinary, very average teenager who adores her friends (the only girls of colour in their predominantly white school) and also loves her feminist Japanese-American mother.
In saying that though, Izumi’s ordinariness is absolutely part of her charm. In societies where Asian girls are made to feel so much internal and external pressure to be excellent and perfect in everything, it felt validating that Izumi could just be this teenager whose highest aspiration wasn’t going to the best college in the country. Then, throw such a girl into the royal world where propriety, punctuality, and sophistication are of the highest import and you get fish-out-of-water antics that are hilarious and so much fun to witness. (I mean, she ruins absolutely everything and throws a carefully planned schedule off-kilter because, enamoured by the luxuries afforded to her, she drinks way too many personally-made drinks and has to pee.)
Underlying the charming silliness of the story is also a story about a girl who feels lost and is on a journey to find connection to who she is and her heritage. Having lost her cultural roots and connection to her Japanese culture due to her grandparents’ choice to assimilate following World War II, Izumi’s desire to better understand her Japanese heritage, her family’s legacy, and reconnect with the father felt meaningful. I felt the vicarious joy of seeing Izumi learn parts of herself, and to come into her own power and strength when she reconciles the conflict she feels about her identity.
What I loved about Tokyo Ever After was just how funny it was. I enjoyed that the story doesn’t take itself too seriously – Tokyo Ever After is a warm-and-fuzzies fantasy that feels like a love letter to all the Asian kids who dreamed of being secret royalty. Izumi’s genuinely funny and warm voice was so lovely and captivating to read, and if you love humour that is unapologetically silly and a little self-depreciating, then you will love this just as much as I did. And while Izumi’s struggles to grapple with her new responsibilities and the burden of being a princess, Tokyo Ever After deftly balances the fun with moments of critical cognisance of the burden and scrutiny visible women experience in the eyes of the media and public.
And oh, the romance. Tokyo Ever After features a delicious bodyguard romance that had me squeal-screaming into a pillow. Starting as a silly dislike, to a budding mutual understanding about each other, to a juicy forbidden romance between a royal princess and a bodyguard below her station, readers will love every minute of the sweet and predictable romance. Indeed, the delight and excitement of the romance was seeing the moments we knew were coming finally happen – the moment the bodyguard lets his guard down, when he has to choose between duty over heart, the transition from the hard jaw to the tender gaze… I melted, perished, evaporated into the ether. Best of all, the romance between the main character and the love interest wasn’t the only romance that melted my heart. There is a story between the princess’s mother and father… but I’ll leave the rest of you to find out what happens.
All in all, Tokyo Ever After was the kind of book that just made me feel so alive. That reminded me of the beautiful things in life – connection, friendship, first love – and celebrates that grace and goodness isn’t a title, it’s a way of being. Tokyo Ever After was a validating, heart-warming, and soft story about discovering who you are, fighting for love, and being your authentic self no matter what. Notably, I also want to highlight that Tokyo Ever After features two parents who are wholly supportive and loving towards Izumi; it was so wonderful and soothing to see two Asian parents who are not perfect but also ultimately in their daughter’s corner.
MY CONCLUSION: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Tokyo Ever After is one of the most fun and blissful books I have ever read. Fun, hilarious, and the right kind of silly and sweet, Tokyo Ever After is the fairytale-like story that feels like a soft pillow after a hard day, gentle in its affirmations and fierce in its celebration of love.
Is this book for you?
Premise in a sentence: A Japanese-American teen discovers that she’s the daughter of the Crown Prince of Japan, and travels to Japan in search of her heritage and history.
Perfect for: readers who love a bodyguard-royal romance; readers who love something a little silly and doesn’t take itself too seriously; readers looking for a cosy and predictable story.
Think twice if: readers looking for a more ‘serious’ book; readers not fond of the ‘diaspora kid reconnects with their culture’ storylines
Genre: young adult contemporary romance
Trigger/content warning: alcohol consumption, invasions of privacy