4 Stars - Strongly Recommended
Many thanks to Harper Perennial for allowing me the opportunity to review Malena Watrous's "If You Follow Me".
This was my first adult woman lit novel in a very long time. It's a genre I tend to overlook nowadays - though not because I dislike it.
When I first found myself craving novels again, back in my early twenties, "Chick Lit" was all I read. I tore the bookshelves at Border's apart, searching for the next Anna Maxted, Sophie Kinsella, and Helen Fielding. They were books with main characters I could relate to. But they were also all very similar. After awhile, the themes became predictable: Girl works crappy job, locked in crappy relationship. Girl quits job, dumps boyfriend, wonders if she did the right thing. Girl finds great job, better man, lives happily ever after. My reactions to those novels became predictable too: I can't wait to start this novel, oh no I can see where this is going, darn it why don't they ever create a strong female lead character, I gotta find something better to read, Thank god it's over.
I eventually started branching out and widening my literary scope. Instead of reading books about woman living similar, if not outrageous, lives, I needed more. I wanted something different. Visits to the book store found me, more often than not, clutching classics and old school sci-fi novels to my chest as I waited in line to pay. Almost refusing to acknowledge the "other" genre.
As I've gotten older, and wiser (perhaps), I have come to find great stories in just about every literary category there is. I know better than to shut out an entire group of novels just because of the label it is given. And Watrous's novel is the perfect example of that.
Struggling to come to grips with the recent suicide of her severely depressed father, Marina meets Carolyn at a group grief session, and they quickly fall in love. When she finds out that Carolyn plans to teach in Japan, Marina wastes no time in applying as well, eager to leave the life she is currently living, hoping this will help her move beyond her fathers death and closer to the woman she loves.
Upon their arrival, both girls find adapting to the Japanese rules and culture difficult. Marina's supervisor, Hiro (Miyoshi-sensei) writes her numerous letters informing her of the gomi (garbage) rules. Her neighbors watch her wearily, and report her every misstep, her girlfriend itches for a space of her own.
Tensions rise as the girls struggle with their students, and keeping their relationship a secret. Carolyn starts to count down the days left until she can return to the states, while Marina focuses on breaking down barriers and building relationships with the people around her.
"If You Follow Me" breaks the typical "Chick Lit" mold. It introduces you to Marina, a young american school teacher, who moves to Japan to teach high school students English. It's more than just a young woman's struggle with identity and love. It's about overcoming stereotypes, breaking boundaries, understanding and accepting different cultures, and transitioning from temporary to something more permanent.
A great read. A book that you can curl up with, but that will also challenge your mind.