If You Follow Me
By Malena Watrous
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.