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Harmless Like You

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  1,748 ratings  ·  238 reviews
Written in startlingly beautiful prose, Harmless Like You is set across New York, Connecticut, and Berlin. At its heart is Yuki Oyama, a Japanese girl fighting to make it as an artist, and her struggle with her decision to leave her two-year-old son, Jay. As an adult, Jay sets out to find his mother and confront her abandonment.
Hardcover, 308 pages
Published February 28th 2017 by W. W. Norton Company (first published August 11th 2016)
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3.82  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,748 ratings  ·  238 reviews

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Elyse Walters
Dec 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Update: Kindle download special today for $2.99. I ‘still’ remember details of this literary fiction like I read it yesterday. I thought it was fascinating.... worth reading.
Read other reviews if considering it.
Great deal and book though in my opinion!

I’m in ‘aw’. The mystique and aesthetics’s of this artistically written novel is
exquisite. I've an enormous amount of respect for author Rowan Hisayo Buchanan.
The talent - skill - intelligence- focus - and gracefulness- that Rowan wrote this n
Feb 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Taryn by: Elyse Walters
If she didn’t burn, she’d rot.

When Jay was only two years old, his mother walked out on him and his father. Thirty-three years later, he's feeling the strong urge to flee after the birth of his own child. The death of his father forces him to confront the mother who has always been a mystery to him. Why would a mother abandon her child? Is Jay destined to abandon his own family?

Life would’ve been easier if she’d had a sister. If there’d been someone with whom living wasn’t an act of translati
Dec 26, 2016 marked it as dnf  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: diverse-reads
I’ve been wanting to read this one ever since I saw that gorgeous cover back in the summer, and now it’s finally in my hands!!! I seemed to be drawn to the cover because it reminded me of one of my favorite paintings by Henrietta Harris:


I was familiar with Buchanan's writing when I first read her haunting short story featured here. And I was once again more than impressed with her honest and compelling writing in Harmless Like You.

Just to throw in a few quotes that I loved:

“‘Shinyū?’ Yuk
Review originally published at Learn This Phrase.

In 60s/70s Manhattan, Yukiko Oyama is a lonely girl, caught between two cultures; she feels ugly, and her peers either bully or ignore her. Opting to stay in New York rather than move back to Japan with her parents, she falls into an unequal friendship, then an abusive relationship – then marriage to a man who loves her, about whom she is ambivalent. All the while she strives and struggles to realise her ambition as an artist, something she feels
What makes a person an artist? What motivates a young woman to become one? How much does a sense of being on the periphery--on the outside looking in, so to speak--have to do with it? Does one gain identity through making art, or is a strong sense of self a prerequisite for making it? Is an artist's (or would-be artist's) personal identity generally stronger or weaker than than that of a person without artistic ambitions? Can you be a visual artist if you are not particularly observant or aware? ...more
Joanne Harris
I've been taking my time over this one, even though I'm reading it for a book prize, because the prose requires attention, and because I can't help lingering over some of the linguistic effects. The author writes with a painterly eye; every sentence is suffused with light and shade and colour. And yet it's a downplayed, subtle effect - no splashy, trying-too-hard, budget creative-writing class style, but the real thing, spare and lovely and luminous. The story is emotionally challenging, dealing ...more
Peter Boyle
Harmless Like You sounded right up my street - a highly-praised tale of dysfunctional families, the heartache of loneliness and salvation through art. But despite its frequently beautiful sentences, this novel just left me cold.

The story follows the fortunes of two main characters: Yuki, a 16-year-old daughter of Japanese parents in New York of the 1960s, and in the present day, her estranged son Jay, who has recently become a father himself. We learn that Yuki was lonely teenager, isolated by h
Diane S ☔
Apr 01, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Review to follow.
Oct 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
Harmless Like You is the multigenerational story of Yuki, growing up in New York in the 1960s, and her son, Jay, who she abandoned as a baby. Their stories move forward together in parallel timelines, one beginning in 1968 and one beginning in 2016, culminating in a reunion that we know is coming ever since the prologue. In the meantime we explore the reasons that led to Yuki's abandonment of Jay, and how Jay has learned to cope with her desertion, especially as he now has a newborn infant himse ...more
Dorie  - Traveling Sister :)
It is always such a fantastic surprise when a book turns out to be something much more than I thought it would be. Harmless Like You is one of those books. I had thought it would be another tale of a young woman who doesn’t fit in as a youth and then struggles in the big city throughout her adulthood. This was so much more.

Yuki Oyama is a young Japanese American who has been living in the US since she was very young. She has never felt as though she fit in ANYWHERE. When we meet her she is in hi
Second read: July 2018
So Harmless Like You is the next reading group pick, and it just so happens that I’ve already read it, about 18 months ago. However, 18 months is a pretty long time, and a lot can change - I know that I’ve most definitely changed. So I thought it deserved a reread.

My first note is that my rating hasn’t changed. It’s still a solid 4-star read for me, but maybe for different reasons than before. Although it’s a piece of literary fiction, the writing is relatively simple, so i
Trigger warning: domestic abuse.

I'm really conflicted.

This book felt real and raw and human and it made me want to make art even if I suck at it.
At the same time, though, it left me with nothing.
I'll probably remember some details: why it's called Harmless Like You, the art, the bald cat. But that's it.
I didn't see any of the "startlingly beautiful prose" but I agree that there was a lot of potential.

I'm interested in reading more from this author whenever she comes out with something new.
Shawn Mooney
Mar 29, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2017
A powerful debut, the story of Yuki, an aspiring artist, a teenager in late-60s NYC without her Japanese parents. She struggles to make art and relationships; decades later, her abandoned son tracks her down in Germany. The earlier narrative was spellbinding: Yuki vividly, lovingly alive on the page; the adult son's character, however, never rang true, rendering that third of the tale less compelling. I loved Yuki; loved most of this novel a lot!
Mar 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In late-1960s New York City, Yuki Oyama makes a fateful decision: instead of going back to Japan with her parents, she’ll stay here and live with a friend. She pursues her art – sketching and photography – and takes up with a man who hits her. For years she puts up with the abuse, until the future father of her son takes her away to a safe little home in Connecticut. But instead of blossoming here, she stagnates, and eventually runs away.

In alternating sections we hear from Jay, Yuki’s abandoned
Jun 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars...I fell heart over brain into the beautiful ache of this novel – the language, the vulnerability, the very slow unfolding of the story. Just, wow!

This is a book about loneliness, about that desire to find someone else to fulfill what seems to be missing. "All girls and women must have the same tender places that she did, under the shoulder blades, the sternum, just above the ears. Probably their eyes hurt when they were tired and when eating alone at a cafe full of couples. So why was
Rachel León
Jan 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
(Probably 4.5 stars)

Wow, this novel.

Yuki Oyama’s father’s job sends the family to Manhattan. Yuki feels stuck between two cultures, but doesn't want to leave New York when it’s time for her family to return to Japan. She convinces her parents to allow her to stay in America with a friend to further her education. Her friend is beautiful and beside her Yuki feels ugly. Her friend’s mother has an abusive boyfriend and in time Yuki develops a crush on him. She soon becomes entangled in a relationsh
Book Riot Community
A young Japanese woman struggling to be an artist in NYC must make tough decisions about her future. Yuki Oyama thinks she’s on the way to living her dreams in the Big Apple, but a destructive relationship forces her to choose between her son and her career. Told between Yuki’s past and her son’s present, Harmless Like You is a powerful debut novel.

Backlist bump: Shelter by Jung Yun

Tune in to our weekly podcast dedicated to all things new books, All The Books:
Jessica M
Nov 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Harmless Like You is a dual POV literary fiction novel. We’re introduced to Japanese-American Yuki in 1968 when she is 16years old and has not one friend in New York City. Her parents have moved back to Tokyo and she decides to stay and live with her friend, aspiring model Odile. The book alternates to the year 2016, where gallery owner Jay - whose father has recently died - is accepting his role as a new father. He believes that he is a happily married man, but it’s the year that he will finall ...more
Harmless Like You is an good debut novel.

The main character is Yukiko Oyama, the daughter of a Japanese executive who's working in the 60's New York. Yukiko is a teenager and feels split in two between her Japanese heritage and living in America. She feels horribly lonely, ugly and stupid.

She's not a "good Japanese" and definitely not an American, as she doesn't look like anyone else. She is either bullied or completely ignored at school.

Odille is the new kid at school. She's blonde, very slim
Jaclyn Crupi
Oct 17, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There's so much beauty and tragedy in this book. Its characters are broken and damaged and lonely. But Buchanan perfectly balances beauty with tragedy and lets the light in. This book revolves around teenage Yuki trying to find her place in 1960s/70s America and Jay the (now adult) son she abandoned when he was two years old. Yuki is lonely, she is lost, she is disconnected. Jay is adrift and terrified of the parent he is proving to be after the birth of his daughter. Can you inherit the drive t ...more
Apr 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Que história bonita e bem escrita.
Paul Hardwick
Jun 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a superb book.

It is about a young Japanese artist trying to find a home in 1970s New York and her son's journey several decades later to find her. I laughed. I cried. I pondered deep into the night about what it meant to belong and how it felt to be broken. And above all I wondered at how beautifully it was told.

Take, for example, the tiny openings to each chapter that describe the origins of various colours of paint:

"Umber from Umbria, as in the raw earth of Italian mountains. It is th

Harmless Like You is a book I won through a Goodreads giveaway, which although rather marvellous, hasn't influenced my review in any way. Luckily though, I adored this book.

Sometimes it's hard to pinpoint exactly why you like a book, especially when you don't want to spoil the content for any future readers. All I know for sure is that this book just clicked with me, and the character of Yuki I felt deep in my marrow, and she'll stay with me for a long tim
Eric Anderson
Aug 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the reasons why my book blog is called LonesomeReader is I want it to be an ongoing exploration of what loneliness means. People who can be termed as introverted or shy have a tendency to feel greater degrees of loneliness as they aren’t able to easily connect to others or socialize as naturally as more extroverted groups. Many who feel this way think of themselves as indistinct and unnoticed, standing on the sidelines or a wallflower. “Harmless Like You” begins with Yuki, an adolescent g ...more
Dec 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016, 2016-favorites
A stunning debut. Harmless Like You is about loneliness and belonging (or not belonging) and what we inherit from our parents, even in absentia. It's about Yuki, a Japanese girl who's lived in America for so long that Japan doesn't feel like home but neither does New York, who longs to be an artist. It's about Jay, the son Yuki left behind, who runs an art gallery and has a child of his own and wonders if his disconnect with the baby is his mother's legacy. The idea of nothingness and how it aff ...more
Mar 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
It's hard to review this book. It's full of imagery and unusual comparisons that make it really enjoyable to read. The author's view of the world is refreshing. There is much discussion of art and artists, which is something that I like. You watch the main character go from one painful transition to another without ever really empathizing with her because she creates all of her problems for herself by trying to pursue her dreams through actions she intends to make her life easier.

The writing is
Rebecca Haling
I received this book through a GoodReads giveaway.

(I'm undecided about trigger warnings, but I feel I should note this book contains domestic abuse, eating disorders, sexual assault involving minors, and animal abuse.)

The book follows two timelines: in the first, Yuki, a Japanese immigrant and now American citizen, remains in New York when her parents return to Japan. She quits school to work for a newspaper and finds herself in an abusive relationship with her guardian's abusive ex-boyfriend; i
Emma Townshend
Jun 18, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a rather magical book. It starts incredibly quietly. I didn't enjoy it much to start with; I felt that every time anyone spoke even briefly in the novel, it was followed by too much clarification in prose. I felt that the author wasn't letting the book flow; but later on, I felt that Hisayo Buchanan was trying to tell the reader something about her two main characters - both of whom THINK about what they are saying as least as much as they actually speak.

As the novel begins, art dealer J
Aug 06, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016, netgalley-arc
Going to sit on this one for a lil while longer - definitely some food for thought.
Might change the rating at a later date.
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