When Nozomi Nagai pictured the ideal summer romance, a fake one wasn’t what she had in mind.
That was before she met the perfect girl. Willow is gorgeous, glamorous, and…heartbroken? And when she enlists Nozomi to pose as her new girlfriend to make her ex jealous, Nozomi is a willing volunteer.
Because Nozomi has a master plan of her own: one to show Willow she’s better than a stand-in, and turn their fauxmance into something real. But as the lies pile up, it’s not long before Nozomi’s schemes take a turn toward disaster…and maybe a chance at love she didn’t plan for.
I have enjoyed every single book written by Misa Sugiura, and I’m delighted to share that Love and Other Natural Disasters is no different. In fact, I think Love and Other Natural Disasters is my favourite book by Misa Sugiura yet. Not only is it so much fun (and if you listen to the audiobook narrated by Katharine Chen, then you will have even more fun, I promise!), but Love and Other Natural Disasters brings so much self-awareness to the fake-dating romance trope that I just wanted to climb to the closest highest mountain and scream, “YES!” Because finally! A romantic comedy that captures the joy and delight of summer romance, told with a completely self-aware narrative that will make you think, and laugh, and then think again.
Love and Other Natural Disasters follows Nozomi, a Japanese-American teen who, with her older brother, decides to spend her summer with her gay uncles in San Francisco. At the art gallery he works at, she meets Taiwanese-American Willow – gorgeous but so terribly heartbroken. When Willow enlists Nozomi to pose as her new girlfriend to make her ex jealous, Nozomi agrees – hoping that Willow may fall in love with Nozomi during their fake-dating scheme.
This book is a mess – a big pile of pure, delightful, queer disaster mess. I love stories with messy characters who make messy decisions, who make mistakes, where things don’t go according to plan and they have to come to terms with the actions of their consequences and take the opportunity to become better people. Mistakes and growing from your mistakes are a part of life – especially in your teenage years! – and I love stories that depict the challenging path of growth with openness, vulnerability, and honesty. If you’re like me, then you may enjoy Love and Other Natural Disasters as much as I did.
Let’s talk about the characters of Love and Other Natural Disasters. All of the characters are flawed and imperfect, but also feel so real and genuine, their motivations clear and relatable. Nozomi, in particular, was a delight and the epitome of a ‘disaster queer’. The story is narrated from her perspective, and I loved being in her head. For Nozomi, she sees life and relationships like a big romance film in which she’s the writer, director, and leading lady. When Willow proposes to fake-date to win her ex back, Nozomi takes the opportunity, believing that Willow will fall in love with her in the process – because that’s what happens in all the fake-dating movies and books, right? And thus begins a series of fake-dates, or, as Nozomi sees, opportunities for Nozomi to make Willow fall in love with her.
However, what makes the story so much more engaging is that, oblivious to Nozomi, is that Willow has no interest in Nozomi – she just wants to win her ex-girlfriend back. As the love interest, I loved Willow – she isn’t malicious by any means and she isn’t a ‘bad’ person, but the story subtly subverts and explores the fake-dating trope, and how fake-dating, conceptually, can be this delightful thing, but it can also be inherently manipulative as well that hurts people in the process. Furthermore, while Nozomi pines for Willow, she develops a tentative and awkward relationship with grumpy artist, Dela, and how their initial dislike for one another grows into a slow-burn romance that feels meaningful and real.
What I love about Misa’s books is that her storytelling is always delivered with this astute and clever self-awareness. Since the story is told from Nozomi’s perspective, the storytelling has to balance being inherently self-aware, wherein the readers are let into the secret of what will inevitably happen, while also having a narrator be completely oblivious and ignorant to what the reader knows. (And I love how Nozomi’s brother plays a role in being the ‘voice of reason’ in the story.) It’s brilliant, and Misa pulls it off.
I also loved how this story examines the intersection of race and queer identity. Although Nozomi is out to her parents, her brother, and her uncle, she isn’t to her elderly and aging grandmother, who has decided that she won’t change her opinion on queerness. The story explores the fragile relationship Nozomi has with her grandmother, and how coming out would completely change the dynamic of their relationship. Furthermore, Nozomi’s uncle who is out, gay, and married with a husband warns Nozomi from coming out to her grandmother. What is the cost of being true to yourself? Is it worth coming out to your elderly grandmother, where time with them is limited? The familial relationships in Love and Other Natural Disasters are also thoughtful and nuanced. I appreciated how the story explores the fraught gray area of how we protect the ones we love, even if it hurts them even more, and how sometimes we can be hurt by whilst also caring deeply for someone.
MY CONCLUSION: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Delightful, fun, and with enough complexity to keep readers engaged, Love and Other Natural Disasters is the pitch-perfect young adult romantic contemporary. I enjoyed its nuanced exploration of family, its brave depiction that people make mistakes with serious consequences, and a fantastic take on the fake-dating trope, all while retaining the unabashed silliness of a romantic comedy.
Is this book for you?
Premise in a sentence: A teen is pulled into a fake-dating scheme with her crush to make her ex jealous – and inadvertently falls for the wrong girl.
Perfect for: Readers who enjoy ‘messy’ characters; readers who enjoy trope subversions; readers who love silliness in their romances.
Think twice if: you’re not a fan of ‘unlikeable’ protagonists.
Genre: young adult romantic contemporary
Trigger/content warning: parental separation; anti-queer rhetoric (challenged)