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My Almost Flawless Tokyo Dream Life

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"I'm here to take you to live with your father. In Tokyo, Japan! Happy birthday!"

In the Land of the Rising Sun, where high culture meets high kitsch, and fashion and technology are at the forefront of the First World's future, the foreign-born teen elite attend ICS—the International Collegiate School of Tokyo. Their accents are fluid. Their homes are ridiculously posh. Their sports games often involve a (private) plane trip to another country. They miss school because of jet lag and visa issues. When they get in trouble, they seek diplomatic immunity.

Enter foster-kid-out-of-water Elle Zoellner, who, on her sixteenth birthday, discovers that her long-lost father, Kenji Takahara, is actually a Japanese hotel mogul and wants her to come live with him. Um, yes, please! Elle jets off first class from Washington, DC, to Tokyo, which seems like a dream come true. Until she meets her enigmatic father, her way-too-fab aunt, and her hyper-critical grandmother, who seems to wish Elle didn't exist. In an effort to please her new family, Elle falls in with the Ex-Brats, a troop of uber-cool international kids who spend money like it's air. But when she starts to crush on a boy named Ryuu, who's frozen out by the Brats and despised by her new family, her already tenuous living situation just might implode.

My Almost Flawless Tokyo Dream Life is about learning what it is to be a family, and finding the inner strength to be yourself, even in the most extreme circumstances.

352 pages, Hardcover

First published December 18, 2018

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About the author

Rachel Cohn

37 books2,216 followers
Rachel grew up in the D.C. area and graduated from Barnard College with a B.A. in Political Science. She has written many YA novels, including three that she cowrote with her friend and colleague David Levithan. She lives and writes (when she's not reading other people's books, organizing her music library or looking for the best cappuccino) in New York City.

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5 stars
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703 (37%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 450 reviews
Profile Image for Mizuki.
2,973 reviews1,178 followers
October 3, 2020
Pre-review: I'd just read the premise and it sounds like a scream, will look forward for this book!

(Link: https://giphy.com/gifs/avril-lavigne-...)

Rating: 3.5 stars

Outline of the story: Elle Zoellner was a 16 years old girl raised by a single mother, when her mother was sent to jail for being a drug addict/seller, she was forced to live with different foster families. Then at her 16 years old birthday, Elle was told all of sudden, her bio father is a rich Japanese businessman and he wanted her to move to Tokyo to live with him?

Huh, that sounds like a mixture of Crazy Rich Asians, Boys Over Flowers and the other silly rags-to-riches girl-manga I'd read before. XD

100 pages into the story, something started to bug me: I don't understand how could a half-Japanese girl from America be so ignorant about the basic things in the Japanese culture/pop culture? I mean, I don't expect her to know the language, every social norm and practice instantly...but come on......she didn't even know what Tokyo Tower is and she seemingly hadn't watched an anime in her life? I know American public schools aren't big on teaching their students about foreign cultures but shouldn't this Elle girl be more curious about her father's side of the cultural inheritance when she grew up?

Then at around page 154, The love interest Ryuu was reading a Haruki Murakami book (French translation, mind you) at lunch time. It really bugs me because it's never mentioned that Elle the MC knows any French nor any Japanese novelist (although Murakami has become really popular worldwide through the years), so how can she recognize a Haruki Murakami French translation from a distance!?

It really feels incoherent when in one scene the MC seems to know the basic of Japanese pop culture (e.g. she can tell the students of her new school have hairstyles similar with anime characters, she seemingly knows who Haruki Murakami is), but in the next scenes she acts and talks like she has never been exposed to said culture in her life! That's so frustrating.

However, I'm quite impressed by the author's keen observation on the practices of Japanese people and her descriptions of the different locations in Tokyo. It's highly likely that the author did visit Japan (or at least Tokyo) for a few times and she had done some good research, I'm giving her my thumb-up here. To be honest, after visiting Japan for plenty of times, if I were to write a book based on this country, I still couldn't have pinpointed and brought those many of the interesting details into light like Rachel Cohn had done in her book.

I think I'd have given this book 3. 8 or 4 stars if the ending part isn't so underwhelming...I mean it isn't exactly a bad ending but it does feel a little rushed, still I'm glad no one is being a drama queen in said ending.
Profile Image for MissBecka Gee.
1,496 reviews599 followers
August 22, 2019
I requested this hoping it would be good and it ended up being amazing!!!
The scenery, food, culture and of course cats made this a delight to read.
It was so much fun and had a lot more to it than I expected.
Now I really must get back to Japan and actually see more than just the airport.
I really enjoyed this and hope all of you get a chance to check it out too!!!
Thank you NetGalley and Disney Book Group for granting my wish!
Profile Image for Vicki.
313 reviews35 followers
January 27, 2019
DNF at 68%. Because when I wasn't pissed off, I was bored.

I don't even know where to start with this. I guess: I'm glad I borrowed the book from the library instead of buying it? Which based on GR reviews, I figured I'd be better off doing; when everyone says it's more like a tourist's guide to Japan than a novel with substance, they are not wrong.

I picked this book up because I was curious. Tokyo is home to me. I was born there, throughout my childhood I spent all of my breaks there (I grew up in Misawa, a town up north), and I return every 2-3 years to visit my family there. Honestly, I was reading this for the homesickness and the nostalgia factors. And I might have felt even a smidgen of that too, had it not been for Elle, the main character, whose point of view we live in through the story.

How can a multiracial (half Japanese, half Native American/black/miscellaneous white European) girl in the foster care system come across as so entitled and spoiled and selfish? How can her introduction to Japanese culture smack of so much white privilege and savior syndrome? Maybe I'm just ultra sensitive to it, having grown up as both Japanese and American, but seriously, her culture shock screamed "rude and insensitive, borderline racist, criticism" to the point where I was offended. I'm not saying that Japanese culture is perfect, and that there aren't things to criticize. But come on, whining about every last little cultural idiom that differs from white American culture, even the benign things? No, sorry, I cannot.

This isn't even getting into her treatment of her family, which smelled like Bella from Twilight. I'm hesitant to rant too much into this, because I get a lot of this is because of her brief stint in the foster care system, and I'm cognizant enough of my own privilege to recognize that there are some things to this point that I just don't get. That's fine. Benefit of the doubt given. But no points for Elle's cultural insensitivity.

Now, let's talk language. Rachel Cohn's research into Japanese culture and Tokyo culture is definitely something to be commended, and almost enough to merit a 2-star DNF rating from me as opposed to a 1-star. But the language.

First of all, Akemi is NOT pronounced "ah-kay-mee" like Elle explains. Yes, an American would pronounce her name like that. But a Japanese person WOULD NOT. And Akemi herself would not pronounce her name "ah-kay-mee". Otherwise, it would be spelled, Akeimii. So. Wrong. It's "ah-ke-mi." I bet Cohn thinks Ryuu is pronounced "ri-yuu" too. Ordinarily, I chalk that one up to English speakers lacking the capability to pronounce the "ryu" syllable correctly, buuut...

Also, the slang for "arigato-gozaimashita", or "thank you very much", last I checked, is not "go zai mas." Gozaimasu is the "very much" part of "thank you very much," and is in fact used in various other contexts than just "arigatou." To be fair, MAYBE in the 2010s, that's what the kids in Japan are using (I can barely keep up with the Gen Z slang in America and I live here, I'm not going to fuss over the equivalent generational slang in Japan, because it's not relevant to me when I visit), but in the 90s and 00s, if you wanted to be more casual than just plain "arigatou" (which is actually REALLY casual), the slang was "sankyuu." Again, slang changes all the time, so maybe it's different now, I don't know, but it's throwing me off. I would say that maybe "go zai mas" is the ICS-Tokyo slang, but Elle pointedly mentioned that she read it in the handbook her father's assistant gave her, so I'm not awarding that benefit of the doubt, either.

These are the ones that stood out to me. I had to dull myself from any possible other offenses before too long. And not all of the language things are incorrect; to be fair, most are pretty accurate. But I have a feeling that while Cohn researched the language, she probably didn't even bother to actually study it, and it shows.

As for the story itself, I don't know, a lot of reviewers are saying that the plot doesn't kick up until the part where I gave up. Maybe it's an accurate assessment. But the parts of the book that I did read are seriously a whole lot of nothing, and I just couldn't imagine whatever plot exists making up for everything that was pissing me off in the parts I did read, so, yeah.

Basically, if you're Japanese, don't read this. If you're a Japanophile, don't read this. If you're looking for a good YA story, don't read this. Just... don't read this. The writing is solidly good, the research is mostly great, but there is no plot until near the end (evidently, I didn't stick around long enough to find out) and Elle is an infuriating protagonist. Again, I'm so glad this was a library read and not anything I spent money on.
Profile Image for Scrill.
407 reviews205 followers
January 11, 2019

This review and others like it can be found on my blog, Vicariously & Voraciously

ARC received from Netgalley for a fair review.

On Elle's 16th birthday, the father she never knew sends for her to be retrieved from foster care where she has been since her mother's incarceration. She is whisked away to a life in Tokyo, Japan where she gets the Cinderella life she never imagined. But all the glamour falls short as she struggle to adjusts to the customs of Japan and the distance she still has from her new found father.

The Story-
Despite my 3 star placing this book right in the middle, I was beyond disappointed by this book. I expected a fun YA contemporary in Japan. Yes we got a YA contemporary in Japan, but half the book felt like a long Japanese culture and etiquette handbook in disguise. At the halfway point, the only thing that had really happened was that Elle had gotten to Japan. The real story really didn't take off till 70%. Up to that point was spent mostly on factoids about Japan. So a majority of the book was establishing just the slight bit of culture shock, no real movement in the plot. On top of all that, when the ending came through I felt like it wrapped up way too quickly, and still left a few loose ends. Also, somehow the story left off with only adults making any real mistakes, no real correction for the actions of the main character.

The Characters-
I really didn't like Elle. Despite knowing all that she had gone through, I somehow didn't find myself sympathizing with her as she was pulled out of her awful situation that she managed to adjust to, and yet still had a negative outlook to new circumstances. She made all the adults out to be the bad guys, and while her actions came out that she was coming to terms with her new lifestyle, she didn't really make much effort to understand the people she was now family with. She just expected them to understand her because she was the child, and that since they were the adults they had to be the bigger people. While often times there was a awed fascination of the Japanese culture, I felt an underlying negative vibe as Elle learned about it.
Profile Image for Kristina Horner.
157 reviews1,812 followers
August 5, 2019
Sometimes I just wonder what revision processes a book went through.

I was stoked about this one. I love Japanese culture and I’ve never read a YA book set there. The cover is gorgeous. The premise is neat.

But this book was just a huge miss for me all around.

-the writing felt really juvenile, like middle school at best, and yet the book had some more adult themes that just sort of made the book feel like it didn’t know who it was for — lots of swearing, mentions of date rape and alcoholism, but then reacting like OMG IS THIS REALLY HAPPENING and referring to her new boyfriend as the “the most awesomest guy!”
-The romance was juvenile and paper thin. The characters were lacking in depth. I didn’t care about anyone?
-nothing happens until literally the last 12 pages
-Elle gets very self righteous about how rude and mean the ex-brats and her new family are, but she herself is so judgmental and horrible about Japanese customs and culture — it was legitimately tough to read. She was so irritating. Her culture shock was not interesting or cute. It was borderline offensive and came across as so privileged, despite her less than ideal upbringing.
-in general I was disappointed with the lack of actual Japan research and knowledge. Sure there were fun tourist activities and cultural anecdotes, but literally everywhere Elle goes in this book were places I went on a recent ten day trip to Japan. It just felt surface level. And some of the actual Japanese language stuff is inaccurate, which felt lazy.

Anyway. I hope to find more YA books set in Japan’s because I was pretty disappointed by this one.
Profile Image for Al.
223 reviews3 followers
December 18, 2018
lmao dnf @ 14%. there’s a way to write culture shock, teenage trauma/feelings, and general japanese culture and this ain’t it y’all
Profile Image for Kayla Brunson.
1,371 reviews250 followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
November 1, 2018
So this book wasn’t terrible, but let's just say it wasn’t for me.

The characters felt very one dimensional. I didn’t connect or care for any of them really. Her so-called family on her father's side were very unlikeable. Her father was cold and distant, Don’t even get me started on her grandmother!

I’ll leave pieces of a conversation here for you:

“Why is your skin dark?”
“My mother’s father was part Native American and African American,” I explained.
Mrs. Takahara did not try to hide her shock and displeasure. “Like black?”
"Mother!" Kim and Kenji both cried at Mrs. Takahara, who ignored them.
Mrs. Takahara said, “You know about the Nigerians in Roppongi? They’re bad, not honest.”

Ya’ll I get that they were supposed to be rich and in another country, but that doesn’t excuse this. I really had problems with her family.

**I received an ARC via NetGalley for an honest review.
Quotes were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

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Profile Image for BookNightOwl.
977 reviews177 followers
October 14, 2020
I enjoyed the writing which made me read this book quite easily. It was entertaining learning about this culture and a lot of stuff I didn't know. I just felt like the ending was a little rushed.
Profile Image for Kay.
301 reviews57 followers
March 7, 2019
This cover is basically the cutest thing ever. And I had such high hopes for this one! It's really a shame that I was so let down. The premise of this is really cute! It's a Cinderella-esque rags to riches story, about a poor girl in foster care being whisked away to live with her previously unknown fabulously wealthy Japanese dad in Tokyo! I've read so many books with a similar premise, but never before in Asia, so I was really excited for this book!

Alas...this really didn't feel so much like a novel as it felt like a travel guide for Japan. We got descriptions of the locations, the food, the clothes, the traditions...basically everything. And that would normally be a great thing! I really did enjoy reading about all of that, since I'm all about that Asian rep! BUT, what I would really like to see is to really experience all of this, instead of having is straightforward narrated. This really felt like one of those classic "show not tell" worksheets we all got in third grade, but this was told instead of shown and I kind of felt like I was reading a Wikipedia article about Japan, not really living it through Elle, the main character. Maybe this will appeal more to people who aren't familiar with Asian/Japanese culture, because you really get to learn about it, but since I already knew most of what Elle was discovering, it was all very boring and annoying and I was like skip skip skip.

With that said, of course the Asian rep was really nice to see! Elle is mixed race, half Japanese, and half ambiguous white/black/native American, and since I'm also half Asian this rep is so hard to find and this made me really happy! Of course, this story takes place in Japan, so there are many other Asian characters, and another half Asian main character as well! I loved seeing Japan represented and displayed! There were a few minor things that seemed off to me, such as the pronunciation of names, but for the most part, it was very clear that the author (who is not Asian) really did her research!

Unfortunately, speaking of rep, there was one mention of lgbtq+ rep that I didn't really like. At one point, Elle sees a text on a woman's phone from another woman who is probably her girlfriend/lover/whatever, and Elle is immediately like: Wow she's lesbian I guess that's why she divorced her husband! And I was like...um...literally why would you jump to that conclusion bisexual people exist too just because she likes women doesn't mean she doesn't like men and didn't love her ex-husband at some time...

Beyond just this, I didn't really like Elle as a character. She was in foster care, which is a situation I obviously have no experience with, and I don't want to come across as privileged here, but Elle struck me as really whiny and annoying, and judgmental. She meets a woman, who went to Harvard but is not working as a secretary, and her immediate thought is: wow I guess she wasn't very smart. When she learns that Japanese people take their shoes off indoors, she goes like: that's weird what do they have against shoes. It felt like she was constantly judging Japanese customs, and just people in general, so I never really warmed up to her.

Her thoughts, and basically the entire book also felt very juvenile. Elle is sixteen, and a junior in high school, but she felt much younger, like a freshman or a middle schooler or something. I kind of have no patience for people who talk like "my fav" and "yessss" and "OMG WTF." I mean, yeah that's text language and I text that to people, but can anyone take a book seriously that has people talking with multiple s's in yes?

However, the book had some content that felt pretty mature: there was a lot of swearing, and there was attempted date rape, as well as mentions of a guy getting a girl pregnant when she was too drunk to remember. I feel like the content itself is more upper YA, high school at least, but the writing style was more lower YA, like middle school, and overall it really didn't match, and as someone who tends to read more upper YA I was pretty frustrated by the irritating juvenile tone.

Besides just Elle, all of the characters felt very flat and to be honest I didn't really like any of them. The ex-brats just felt like steryotypical mean girls from a high school movie or something, like the plastics, and not like the way actual people act. Basically all of the guys were douchbags. I couldn't care less about Elle's love interest and felt zero chemistry between them and honestly the romance was probably the weakest part of the book.

I didn't really like the ending of the book. There were some issues left unsolved that I felt really needed to be resolved, but were kind of just forgotten about. In addition, some of the changes that did happen, the sort of people becoming better people felt rushed and unrealistic given everything else we learned about their characters throughout the book. Overall, this book had such a great premise and such a kawaii cover, but I definitely won't be recommending.

1.5 stars
Profile Image for Cassie | Lost In Tomes.
331 reviews45 followers
February 11, 2019
This was... a little disappointing.
I was expecting this to be a light, fun contemporary set in Japan. I love watching Asian Dramas and was very excited hoping this would have a similar feel. What I got instead was a lot of angsty teens with parental issues and a newbies guidebook to life in Japan. Our main character Elle is a pretty colorful individual however she lacked any real depth, I felt like her and the entire cast was pretty forgettable. The plot was not very intriguing and could have easily been placed anywhere in the world. The biggest bummer for me was the fact that the book is set at an International High School so most of the characters are not even Japanese. And the ones that were Japanese came off very stereotyped which I did not appreciate. It often felt like I was reading a book by someone who has only read about Japan or experienced it briefly as a tourist, I didn't feel like the culture was very well understood. The plot moves very slow and nothing really interesting occurs until about 60% of the way in. I came hoping for a little romance or character building... but we don't even have a love-interest until the last couple chapters. Overall I was pretty disappointed. It's not a bad book but not a great one either. I have really enjoyed past works by this author and would recommend many of her other books over this one. :)

Content Notes/Trigger Warnings:
- Strong Language (a LOT of F-Bombs)
- Sexual Assault Triggers (attempted assault and date rape mentioned)

Recommend for:
- Fans of Love a la Mode
- Readers unfamiliar with Japan
Profile Image for ♠ TABI⁷ ♠.
Author 15 books485 followers
Want to read
September 7, 2018
I expect 2% of mediocre greatness from this and literally only reading because Tokyo and that cover is rather cute

Profile Image for BunTheDestroyer.
433 reviews4 followers
April 12, 2019
Couldn’t put it down but I didn’t like the way everything was neatly wrapped up in the ending...even though i was glad with HOW it ended it just seemed veryyyy fast. Wouldn’t have minded a longer book instead.
Profile Image for Amber.
992 reviews
April 10, 2019
Elle Zollener is a young girl who is trying to survive school and being in foster care. When her 16th birthday arrives, her Uncle Masa arrives to tell her that her father would like her to go live with him in Tokyo, Japan. Elle says yes and goes on an adventure of a lifetime. Will she finally have the family she always wanted and can survive? Read on and find out for yourself.

This was a pretty good read. If you enjoy stories about Japan and family, then definitely check this book out at your local library and wherever books are sold.
Profile Image for Molly.
456 reviews128 followers
June 24, 2018
This was a mixed bag for me. Three stars because the writing just wasn't amazing, the main character's voice was too young & didn't seem to really fit, and the rushed ending.

I read this book because it's set in Japan. I lived in Japan for 7 years (school, work, got married) and I always am curious to see if YA books set in Japan are actually accurate. Anyone can do research, but unless you've actually be to Japan and experienced it, I think it's hard for the author to do the country justice with just some google research.

I have no idea if the author has lived in Japan, but I do think that she's at least been to Japan once or twice. There were SO MANY things that were so well done regarding the culture and Tokyo itself... but then there were some really nuanced things that just weren't. Like the father wearing a black tie for work. Black ties are exclusively for funerals. Or the weird "slang" that the teens spoke. Yes, this is a work of fiction, yes there were some fictional things in the story (like the apartment building the MC lived in), so maybe she was just playing around with stuff. There were some other things that I couldn't tell were insider nods towards what it's like to actually be a foreigner in Japan, or outsider looking in assumptions. There's a thin line sometimes from what an insider or outsider can comment on regarding Japanese culture and their experiences with it.

You can see where I did take issues with accuracy in the comments that I made as I read. Like I said, so much of this was so well done and seemed like it was written by someone with insider experience that it really took me out of the story when these inaccuracies popped up - like there are not beer vending machines readily available all over Tokyo and for sure not in Shibuya station. Most of them are inside hotels these days; they used to be more prominent but not so much anymore. Unless someone wants to prove me wrong? I'm not saying that my experiences are universal, but I do feel that most of the inaccuracies don't apply to my experiences alone.

There were a lot of difficult subjects being tackled in this that I think could have also used a bit more attention. There are mentions of substance abuse and rape. Both heavy subjects that I think could have used a bit more dedication, especially since the substance abuse was really close to the MC and really important to her life and her situation. I really wish that the author had not put in the part about alcoholism in Japan without mention about how touching on how alcohol is used and viewed in Japanese society and how it is very much a part of Japanese business culture. I'm not saying that drinking for work = being okay with alcoholism, but it is very much a deep cultural issue that could have used more attention.

This is very much a fantasy book about what if you were whisked away to a life of privilege and power and there were a few nods here and there towards the fact that life in Japan isn't perfect, but reading this makes it sound very much life a dream life fantasy. So don't expect an accurate depiction of what it is life to really live in Japan as a normal person.

Profile Image for Teresa.
Author 4 books76 followers
December 20, 2018
Thank you to NetGalley, Rachel Cohn, and Disney-Hyperion for the opportunity to read My Almost Flawless Tokyo Dream Life in exchange for an honest review.

This is a spunky, fast-paced novel geared toward teenage girls. It is told in the perspective of Elle, a girl who just wants to graduate high school so she can get out of foster care. She loves her mom, but ever since her mom started doing drugs, life has been a challenge, and she knows nothing of her dad.

That is, until one day her uncle, who Elle greatly cares about, arrives to take her to live with her father in Japan! She's never met the man before, and her uncle is far more of  a father than her real father, who she is more comfortable with calling Kenji rather than dad. It turns out that Elle's father is a major businessman in Japan, and his own father was not okay with his lover and having a hafu in the family--half Japanese half...whatever.

As Elle falls in with the pristine crowd at her new, prestigious school that teaches in the American way, she learns that being popular is great and all, but not necessarily all it's cooked up to be. Elle also finds romance with the son of a yakuza, something that her own father frowns upon as well. There is definitely a message to be said that a child should not be brought down by the crimes of their parents, but Japan has its own way of viewing people in its social structure.

One of the things I liked about this novel was the quick pace. It was easy and fun to read. It also introduces a number of Japanese phrases, colloquialisms, and cultural inferences that are a nice introduction for someone who might not know a whole lot about Japan, but it's a bit bland and basic for those of us who are very familiar with anime and manga. The book itself felt like reading an anime, which was a nice touch. I also enjoyed some of the references to iconic landmarks or known areas, suck as Shinjuku, or Cat Island, which I was just talking to one of my Japanese friends about.

One thing that really made the score on this novel drop for me was the character development. Most of the characters felt very flat, and the most interesting character, Ryuu, didn't have enough page or development time. The noel could easily have gone on for another 50-100 pages to develop these characters in a "show, don't tell" way. Many of the interactions between Elle and Ryuu, as well as between Elle and a number of other characters, were brushed off in a quick paragraph to highlight the expanse of a day or a week. It would have been better to really show some of those scenes to help the development, considering there's still some room to expand the novel without overdoing word/page count.

Overall, this was a book that was still hard for me to put down. There's a lot to say about family. What does the word "family" truly mean to us as individuals? How does family define who we are? While this is the main premise of the novel, the driving point for me was Ryuu, a character that definitely did not get a lot of action, but I would like to see his story sometime, perhaps!
Profile Image for Lauryn.
60 reviews55 followers
May 9, 2019
This was a cute contemporary sorta, though I felt as though this book was really surface level and pretty average. The story just blurs in my head with all the other contemporary books that I've read. The characters aren't anything special and the writing was okay. In fact, there were so missed opportunities to discuss substance abuse is a book regarding two characters that has a drug problem and the other being an alcoholic. There were also to other characters that were apart of the LGBTA+, and I felt that it was a missed opportunity to discuss how those that identify with being LGBTA+ are treated in Tokyo, Japan in comparison to the United States. The pacing of this was also not that great. I was about halfway through the book and nothing happened. The end also felt really REALLY rushed, it took away the enjoyment level of the book. I will say that the best part of this book was the fact that this book takes place in Tokyo. There is a lot of time the book that describes different places in Tokyo as well as the food. This book also talks a lot about the customs in Tokyo which I found quite interesting. It is important to know that this isn't own voices, so I don't know how accurate the culture is described in this book. I think if you're in the mood a fast cute contemporary, then you should probably consider this one.
Profile Image for Sam.
172 reviews3 followers
April 16, 2019
Okay *inhales deeply*. Okay. This book was a waste of most of the time I spent on it, and the characters weren't even likeable. The only good part of this entire book was the last fourty or so pages. Would not recommend.
Profile Image for Elisquared.
419 reviews84 followers
January 10, 2020
I have been a Rachel Cohn fan for quite a while, so I was thrilled when I got to be a part of the blog tour for her latest book, My Almost Flawless Tokyo Dream Life. It contains so many things I love: private school, Japanese culture, and a sassy main character. But above all, this is a story about family and finding out where you belong; something everyone can relate to, in some way.

This book examines a lot of tough subjects: alcoholism, substance abuse, absentee parents, and cultural acclimation. But what Cohn does so well, is weave those tough subjects with funny or sweet moments, much like real life. So you get a good balance of intense subject matter with a light contemporary, so when you're reading, you feel for the characters, but you're never weighted down. I think there is a time and place for those hard hitting contemporaries, but I must admit I prefer my drama with some humor and romance.

Elle is a great main character: she's funny, smart, and adaptable. You click with her right away, and get invested in what happens to her. Elle was the main reason I blasted through this book so fast (while that's the hope for a main character, honestly sometimes it's the supporting cast that makes a book sing). I will say that Elle was the most developed, but as this is her story I didn't find that to be an issue. So while the supporting characters contain some layers, they are there to help Elle along in her journey. Of course, Elle isn't perfect. She makes some dicey decisions friend group-wise when she gets to Japan, but in her situation I find that totally believable. I think the best way to describe Elle is as a girl you'd want to be friends with.

The school Elle attends is like something out of your wildest private school dreams. I know when I was growing up, I wanted to go some place magical and exclusive, and the International Collegiate School of Tokyo delivered. Competitive and exclusive, Elle has to really hustle to keep up with her classmates, but she succeeds on catching up. Of course, she shines on the swim team, putting some balance into her life. Here Cohn highlights the hierarchy of such a school, with the "Ex-Brats" running the show, and Elle trying to fit in. While the setting isn't somewhere typical teens go, the social dynamics will definitely resonate.

Finally, one of my favorite parts of the book was the setting. Taking place in Japan, specifically Tokyo, you get to see the city through Elle's eyes: the busy parts and the quiet parts. The difference between American and Japanese culture are highlighted, showing both the good and the bad. Elle's fraternal relatives see her as not part of the family, and remind her that she is both hafu (“half Japanese, half something else”) and gaijin (a foreigner). But while they don't accept her, the "ex-Brats" and other students at Elle's school show her the welcoming parts of Tokyo. If you don't want to visit Tokyo and Japan after this book, I don't know what will convince you.

The only issue I had with the book was the pacing. Over half of the book is just setting Elle up in Japan, and then it all kind of fast-forwards, with the resolution coming together much too quickly to feel as genuine as it could. Luckily, as this is more a character-driven story, the plot being rushed doesn't negate the enjoyment of the story.

A great mix of sweet and dramatic, My Almost Flawless Tokyo Dream Life delivers a good read. Out today, go pick up a copy!
Profile Image for Lindsay.
587 reviews
September 27, 2018
Elle is in foster care after her mom ends up in jail due to drug usage. Her life is complete hell until her uncle appears with a social worker, telling her that her father has decided to take her in and she’s moving to Tokyo. Elle has never met her father nor does she know anything about him so the story focuses on Elle navigating her new life in Japan, making friends, and getting to know the family she never knew she had.

This was a typical rags to riches story. Elle went from poor to rich since her father is a successful businessman who owns a hotel chain. They live in a penthouse (on the 49th? floor) in his Tokyo location and she attends an ICS school based in Tokyo with other expatriate kids. She has room service, a maid, and lives a life of luxury while experiencing the Japanese culture. The only downside is the lack of attention from her busy father and the stone cold attitude from her grandmother and aunt.

I didn’t like this story as much due to how childish Elle acted along with the lack of plot. Elle’s life kept getting better and better from the minute she was whisked away to meet her rich father. There was no friction or bumps in the road. Elle’s life was smooth, despite the story not really having a singular focus. For example, there are snippets of her writing letters to her mom, facetiming with her BFF in America, swimming on the swim team, making friends with the popular crowd, touring Japan, crushing on a forbidden guy, and having uncomfortable meetings with her new family. I feel like this would have stood stronger as a diary entry instead of a story format.

Thanks NetGalley for the ARC.
Profile Image for Renata.
2,505 reviews338 followers
December 7, 2018
ok first of all

anyway uh...this book mainly exists to be like, Gossip Girl style wealth porn but for Japan-lovers, and that's a fine thing for a YA book to be, and indeed I did enjoy the lavish descriptions of fancy Tokyo high rises and sushi chefs and whatnot. The plot......is real flimsy and this is another book where the grownups mostly seem to exist so that you feel bad for how UNFAIR the teens' lives are.

But also the tone is kind of uneven, like from the premise and title I expected it to be mostly the fluffy Tokyo life but there's some p grim side plots that are resolved abruptly?

I think a specific type of teen reader will still be into this but it's like...not great
Profile Image for v..
61 reviews78 followers
February 6, 2019
I really enjoyed this! I loved the Tokyo setting and getting to experience it all along with our main character. She was funny and smart and knew how to stand up for herself and I really enjoyed reading from her perspective. The love interest was adorable and I wish we’d had more time with him since it was such a slow burn and took most of the book for them to even kiss. I liked the development between her family and how they slowly worked towards accepting her. It was overall a super cute, feel good story and I’d recommend it if you want lots of cuteness and smiles.

4/5 stars
Profile Image for Amberfranceen.
18 reviews4 followers
February 12, 2019
This book starts out pretty grim, and I was just settling into that tone when the main character, who's portrayed as sht and awkward, is whisked away to her fabulous new life, where it becomes a real Princess Diaries situation. Suddenly our heroine is sassy and bold and witty.. no real explanation for the abrupt change in personality other than the cliche rags to riches arc. The rest of the book essentially reads as a travel guide to Tokyo, which, being obsessed with Japan and their fascinating culture, I did not mind, with some weak Gossip Girl style antics tossed in for "plot". Bottom line: if you love Japan, you might appreciate the setting and info, but the story itself is incredibly paint by numbers and boring.
Profile Image for Sandy.
166 reviews8 followers
May 11, 2022
This is a rags to riches story of a girl living in foster care, who finds out that her father is actually very wealthy and he wants her to go live with him in Japan. Elle’s situation is very bleak at the beginning of the novel as she is only allowed to shower once a week and she is bullied at school for not showering. Then she is whisked off to Japan where she lives a luxurious life and gets a fresh new start at a new school, where she can be someone other than the smelly kid. Suddenly so many opportunities are opened up to her.

This book could have been better. Elle bugged me a lot because she would whine about different rules in Japan and refuse to follow them, even simple ones. The book also doesn’t have much plot. The romance aspect was pretty nonexistent for most of the book. I thought Ryuu would be an intriguing love interest at first but the romance part ended up being boring.

I honestly read it for the wealth porn and the setting. Read it if you like wealth porn or you want to visit Japan but maybe don’t read it expecting a plot or romance.
Profile Image for Elvie Mae.
1 review
March 2, 2019
I rarely write a full on review but for a book like this it is unfortunately necessary.

Firstly, the book utilizes to the max the cliches of a near-perfect rags-to-riches story. Main character gets whisked away from their terrible life all of a sudden in a new world and is given a chance to live life anew. However, that is not my problem with the book at all. In fact, I welcome those things and feel-good stories like that should be welcomed if they are written well! However, I personally feel this book is sadly not one of those titles.

My biggest problem, personally, with this book is its ignorance and lack of research it clearly shows in its writing. At its core, it exoticises Japan in a way that seems to come from a place from someone who is only familiar with Japan through the lens of anime. I for one cannot speak on behalf of the author as to whether or not what their experiences or relationship with Japan is, but what this book conveys to me is that it comes off as very shallow.

Many of the characters are downright stereotypes. Why does this one Japanese character not know what soda is, when Coke is literally an international brand and has been for decades? Other Japanese characters act in a way that is very robotic and stiff, as if forcing them to conform what "Japanese etiquette" is, when in reality, Japanese society technically has very minute differences to American society. It feels very unnatural and there were certainly a number of specific moments that felt racist, as if to the suggest Japanese people are stuck in the past. Japan is not boxed in its little world, ignorant of how other cultures work.

This one dimensional even unfortunately shows in the non-Japanese characters as well.

The main character, Elle, for instance, is a poorly written teenager. Elle is a byproduct of a horrible life and upbringing, but her dysfunctionality is written in such a way that is inconsistent and makes her out to be unsympathetic and jerkish.

At 16 years old, Elle fails to understand and gets shocked by basic, modern-day concepts like elevators and office buildings, yet somehow is able to name famous celebrities and watch a show like Gilmore Girls that has stopped syndication by the time she was born. It is made clear Elle has done well in school and I doubt she would not be as ignorant of certain things and Japan as she is made out to be. She is from Maryland, not the woods.

Culture shock is indeed a truly real thing until you truly have set foot in another country, but her initial closed-mindedness and resistance when she was being explained basic etiquette was confusing and hard to believe. Perhaps this is only coming from my experiences, but knowing someone with a rough background would have been more humble. It was odd how entitled she felt towards the adults that they should accommodate to her lifestyle and not her to the same. It is especially most odd that Elle has been made aware of her mixed heritage her whole life, nonetheless to suggest she has went to a school with a diverse array of other students. Why is she so culturally insensitive?

Her inner thoughts were especially the most obnoxious, written with the tone of someone who sounds more like a spoiled preteen who was able get everything they wanted growing up, versus someone in high school who has understood struggle and lived with nothing. Again, she is 16 years old. Trauma does not equate to aggressively rude and asshole-ish behavior.

Deeper into the story, Japan also becomes under utilized and is made clear that it was never that integral in the first place.

This felt all the more glaring when a lot of things felt thrown in just because the story was set in Japan and we have to remind you this. Loosely and inaccurately researched Japanese words in the dialogue? Cats? And no surprise here folks, guess we gotta throw in the Yakuza in here! However, again, what makes Japan JAPAN should not be defined by these superficial things.

The story sets up this serious conflict in the beginning that gets resolved so quickly, so my connection and any care I had to the main character and the lack of incentive for her development fell off pretty quickly - especially when the inevitable romance happens. The book just ended up feeling like a very surface level guide on tourist-y things that possibly can be explored without the proper expertise of someone who actually lives in Japan. I feel as though this story could have been still told in its exact format without having to force this character to go to another country.

In the end, despite it being a decently quick read, even someone with weeab-levels and utterly distasteful Japanophile levels of interest should spare their time not reading this as there is not much to be gained from it.

I hope in the future that the author goes out of their way to have bigger conversations with others in order to improve their research if if they were to explore a setting like this again. In addition, maybe actually talk to actual teenagers today if one were to write teenagers.
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