HARMLESS LIKE YOU by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan


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Even the meek and mild can unwittingly cause long-lasting harm to the people they love.

Jay was 2 when his mother abandoned him and his dad, and it’s been many years since he probed the reasons for her disappearance. But now that he’s a father himself, he worries that he’ll be unable to love his daughter and sustain a relationship with his wife, Mimi. Will he, like his mom, be suffocated by domesticity? Will he be able to stifle the impulse to flee? On top of these concerns, Jay is in mourning. Shortly after Mimi gave birth, his beloved dad, Edison, suddenly died. Even more shocking, Edison left his Connecticut home to his ex-wife, Yuki, Jay’s estranged mom. Thanks to a quick internet search, Jay discovers that Yuki now lives in Berlin and has become a somewhat successful artist. Jay’s decision to pay her an unannounced visit—not only to have her sign the inheritance documents, but to get answers to questions he’s obsessed over since childhood—unleashes long-repressed anxieties. Not surprisingly, when the pair finally meets, the encounter is awkward and tense, at least initially. Before their paths cross, however, the novel takes readers back in time to reveal Yuki’s personal history. As you’d expect, it’s intricate, layered, and complex, filled with missed connections and disappointments. Readers learn, for example, that Yuki was the only Japanese-American student in her New York City class, and while the novel doesn’t directly address race, Yuki’s isolation, and the resultant insecurity and depression it caused, paints a vivid picture of an unmoored woman whose emotional disquiet led her to become both victim and victimizer.

A highly-nuanced, understated, and beautifully written debut.

Pub Date: March 28th, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-324-00074-7
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2017


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