Review & Book Tour: If You Follow Me

If You Follow Me
By Malena Watrous
HarperCollins Publishers
March 2010
384pp

Here’s the blurb from the publisher:

Hoping to outpace her grief in the wake of her father’s suicide, Marina has come to the small, rural Japanese town of Shika to teach English for a year. But in Japan, as she soon discovers, you can never really throw away your past . . . or anything else, for that matter.

If You Follow Me is at once a fish-out-of-water tale, a dark comedy of manners, and a strange kind of love story. Alive with vibrant and unforgettable characters—from an ambitious town matchmaker to a high school student-cum-rap artist wannabe with an addiction to self-tanning lotion—it guides readers over cultural bridges even as it celebrates the awkward, unlikely triumph of the human spirit.

The Short of It:

Reading If You Follow Me, is like taking a cool sip of water on a hot summer’s day. It’s refreshing and bold and filled with vivid, colorful characters.

The Rest of It:

I was rather surprised by this one. I expected it to be a “fish out of water” story, and to a degree, it is but there’s much more to it than you would expect. It’s light and airy in one sense, but it deals with some heavier themes and Watrous manages to take all of these elements and roll them into a nice little package.

Marina is an American who is hired to teach English in the small, Japanese town of Shika. She, along with her girlfriend, Carolyn, inhabit a tiny apartment and run into all sorts of colorful neighbors. Neighbors that constantly sift through her trash and complain to her supervisor, Hiro, also known as Miyoshi-sensei, about her constant rudeness.

Through letters, Hiro teaches Marina about the finer points of living in a small, Japanese town. These letters are peppered throughout the novel and are quite funny.

Here’s an example:

Now I prepare this sheet so you can learn target Japanese words and gomi law in one simple occasion. I hope it’s so convenient for you. It’s kind of so rude if you “can’t remember” about gomi law. Your neighbors feel some stress about you, and they must be so busy. They can’t talk to you every time you make a gomi mistake. I think they want to know you so much. First learn gomi law, second Japanese language, and third you can enjoy international friendship. This is like holding hands across the sea!

There are many humorous moments within this novel which sort of lighten it up a bit, but at the core, Marina is struggling to deal with her father’s suicide and the feeling that perhaps she could have prevented it. The guilt that she has over the incident is a constant presence throughout the novel. It sits quietly in the background as she tries to sort through the life that she has chosen for herself.

Her interactions with others are almost in slow motion. She sort of drifts through her days going from classroom to classroom and is often in denial when it comes to the current state of things. Marina is a strong woman though, and when she feels the need to act, she does and you end up in her corner, cheering her on.

I can’t say enough about the characters. They’re all quirky and different and although some of them are only referred to in a line or two, you still get a feeling for who they are. Watrous has a knack for carving out the essence of a character without weighing them down with a lot of background info.

There’s so much here to like. If you enjoy quirky, fun novels that have a bit of substance to them, you will enjoy If You Follow Me.

To visit Malena Watrous’ website, click here.

To visit her on Facebook, click here.

Malena will be interviewed for Book Club Girl’s Blog Talk Radio show on April 6th. For more information, click here.

To view Ms. Watrous’ other TLC tour stops, click here.

Source: A big ‘thank you’ to TLC Book Tours for asking me to be a part of this tour and for providing me with a review copy of the book.

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26 thoughts on “Review & Book Tour: If You Follow Me”

  1. All the reviews of this one on the tour have been really good. That was a really nice review Ti. I think you are the final straw to convince me to read it!

  2. I’ve read some mixed reviews on this book so it’s interesting to read a different perspective. Not sure if it’s one that I’ll make a priority to read.

    1. I’ve heard from some that the pace was a little slow, but I felt that the pace was appropriate given the main character’s handling of her grief. She just sort of drifts along.

  3. i haven’t heard anything about this book and love to see books on tour because i can get many perspectives on the same novel through other bloggers.

    the premise sounds so good–i have a friend who taught overseas for 2 years in japan but i was too chicken to leave my family for so long.

    i’m not sure if i missed it in the review, but is this a debut novel? i’m eager to read some new authors…thanks for the tip!

  4. Someone has kindly offered to send me this one now that she’s done with it. Now I can’t wait for it to arrive. But maybe I should wait to read it until a hot summer’s day.

    1. If you appreciate humor ina book you will enjoy it and for some reason, it reminded me of summer. Well, partly because the characters talk of stifling hot weather but it just has a summer feel to it. Not chick-litty though.

  5. The cover alone began to draw me in. Your review clinched the deed. I think this will need to go on my wish list. Lovely review…
    *smiles*

  6. “Refreshing and bold…” I love those words! I’m so glad you liked the book! This book has been quite polarizing, so I’m having a lot of fun seeing who liked it and who didn’t. I wonder if I would like it!

    Thanks for being on this tour! I love the words you chose in this review (two of which I referenced above).

  7. Hi everyone, and hi Ti,

    Ti–thank you so much for taking the time to read and write such a thoughtful and considerate (in both senses of the word) review of my novel. I have had a wonderful time on its virtual tour (of blogs) and this was a particularly great stop. I’m blown away by the care and attention that you pay to novels as a reader and book critic. And reading people’s responses to the book bloggers leaves me happily convinced that the novel is neither dead nor in any danger. I’m on the live portion of a book tour as I write this–in a fun hotel room at the Ace Hotel in Portland, which I highly recommend to anyone visiting the Northwest. My mom lives in Eugene, and she came up and is staying here too. I’ll be reading at Powell’s on Hawthorne this evening at 7:30, if there are any Portland folks who happen to be checking in here. I had better get back to my mom and my little boy, as we are late for a trip to the zoo. Ti–I love being compared to a cool drink of water in the summer, which is by FAR my favorite season. Can’t wait for it to come. This has been a too long, too chilly winter! Thank you to everyone for your interest in my novel, and feel free to contact me if you have any questions or want to chat books. I’m on Goodreads too–my favorite place to trade book recommendations.

    Warmly,

    Malena

    1. Thank you for stopping by to say “Hi” to everyone. Enjoy your time in Portland. Lots and lots of good bookstores there 😉 And thanks for sharing the event at Powell’s. I wish I could go!

  8. I don’t think I would have picked this one up just from the cover – even though it’s beautiful it looks a little bit like chick-lit. Your review makes it sound much more interesting than that though.

  9. Thanks Ti. That excerpt that you chose gives such a wonderful flavor for the book and put me right in the story. Seems like a talented author and a book that I would enjoy reading.

  10. I really like this book’s cover! I love novels with quirky characters and to discover other countries to their eyes. Great review!

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