Wednesday, 21 June 2017

A Review of Seven Days of You

Seven Days of You is a book by Cecilia Vinesse. Sophia has lived in a few different countries, but Tokyo is the one place that feels most like home. In seven days, she has to leave it behind and move back to the States. The return of a boy who she exchanged some mean words with last time she saw him is putting her on edge. Her two best friends, one of whom she's had a crush on for a while, are determined to drag her out to have fun.

I honestly didn't like this one all that much at all, and since it's set in Tokyo, I thought I would love it.

The story is set in a generic city. If the story hadn't told me it's set in Tokyo, with a few recognisable landmarks, I wouldn't have known. I wanted to feel like I was standing in the famous Shibuya scramble crossing, which I have only seen through images. I wanted to taste sushi in my mouth. I wanted to see cherry blossoms in my mind's eye. In short, I wanted to experience Tokyo. If you've read my previous reviews, you'll know I usually love stories like this. I love being shown a new city while I'm reading, travelling around the world. And it's Japan, one of my dream places to visit! the key word here is shown, which this book doesn't do. And I mean... it's Tokyo! How did Vinesse make Tokyo seem so dull? There's no rich description of walking around, say, Harajuku, with the colourful archway, the famous clock and teenagers everywhere in Japanese street fashions. The few times we do go to a famous location, I never felt like I was actually there. And there was nothing on the day-to-day minutiae of being in a different country. What line on the subway do you take and where do you change, what do the everyday streets look like, how are the security checks before going into a tourist location? Also, Vinesse tells us, say, this history of Hachiko. I don't know if it's just how much I've researched about Japan, but I feel the majority of readers wouldn't need to be told this. Facts like these need to be inserted naturally into the story, so they don't break up the flow of it. She also told us what takoyaki and gyoza are - I felt like this book wasn't written for someone who is already enamoured with Japanese culture.

Here's how I would write these descriptions, so they don't interrupt the story but still inform someone who doesn't know too much about Japan what they are.
"I broke through the deep-fried takoyaki coating with my teeth, and enjoyed the way the salty flavour of octopus broke over my tongue. I always thought it tasted a little of the sea"
"I remember my dad used to tell me the story of how Hachi would wait for his owner at the station, even after he died. Even though it's a sad story, I always liked it."

The characters... I really don't want to talk about them. Sophia is white, and her two love interests are white. Sophia's friends call her Sofa, which is probably one of the stupidest nicknames I've ever heard. We know she's into anime, which is about as useful as saying someone is into films. What sort of anime? Tell me her favourite series and why she likes them. Studio Ghibli, but which movie in particular? We should be able to tell a lot about a character from their favourite media choices. She's also described as a maths and science geek, and because of this we're always told that she is smart, but she shows no evidence of this throughout the story. She wants to be an astrophysicist, but we never see her interest it it. She should be looking up at the night sky every night, and her room should be decorated with star posters and hanging planets. Sophia spends much of the early part of the book worrying because she's going to see a guy who she said a few mean things to three years ago. How old is she meant to be, again? Oh, and she has lived in Japan more than half her life, but her Japanese is pretty much non-existant. Plus, she engages in a lot of girl-on-girl hate. She hates Caroline, who is literally one of the consistently nicest people in the book, because she's dating the boy Sophia likes. David was an absolute asshole, and I couldn't see how he had as many girls after him as he did. And Jamie, we're told how nice and sweet he is, but I just couldn't see it, especially after how he taunted Sophia about her crush.

I don't do this often, so let's try a little rewrite, shall we? As I am white myself and doing this off the cuff, with no research whatsoever, I can't promise it will be perfect, but I'll try.

Kikuko, who's friends call her Kiko, was born in Japan to Japanese parents. She speaks both Japanese and English fluently. Since they travelled for business, she grew up mainly in the west, but they've been back in Tokyo for a few years. They enrolled her in an international school, so she has friends from many different countries. She loves anime, especially anything by Studio Ghibli, magical girl and josei genres. Her favourite series is Princess Jellyfish, as she feels she can relate to Tsukimi. She's a maths and science geek, with an interest in space, and she wants to study astrophysics. Her parents used to point out all the patterns of stars in the night sky, and she loved how the stars were always there, no matter where in the world she was. She also likes food, since they travelled so much she was exposed to many different cuisines growing up, but Japanese food is her favourite, since it reminds her of home. She hates wearing a kimono, however, and isn't into fashion at all. While in Tokyo, she starts crushing on a boy who was raised with an emphasis on Japanese traditions. He's lived in Japan all his life, with his mother, father, grandmother and sister and takes his responsibility and respect towards his family very seriously. However, the son of a friend of her father's, who she knew while she was in the USA, is coming over to visit during what happens to be her last week in Tokyo. They had a little turbulent romantic history, but nothing serious, so she decides to show him some of her favourite sites of the city, and some of the touristy things she hadn't got around to. Things like Tokyo Sky Tree, Tokyo Tower, Tokyo DisneyLand, the Studio Ghibli museum, Tsukiji fish market, Shibuya and Harajuku, where she didn't go much and Shinjuku and Akibahara, where she did visit often. They make a pact to eat at a different cute café each day and ramen or sushi every night. Obviously, there's a spark between them, but her other love interest is starting to show more interest in her, too. If there has to be a love triangle, make it worthwhile. Oh, and the book is set in April, because cherry blossoms.

I really don't feel I can recommend this book. If you want a book set in Japan, try Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto and if you want a good travel story, try One Italian Summer.

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