Rebecca's Reviews > Harmless Like You

Harmless Like You by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan
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really liked it
bookshelves: public-library, mental-health

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 son, who owns an art gallery and in 2016 is having trouble adjusting to fatherhood. His ‘postpartum’ depression mirrors Yuki’s in an ironic but rather amusing way. He has little affinity for this baby, preferring to spend time with his 17-year-old diabetic, hairless cat, Celeste. “Looking at Eliot made me queasy. She really was a little leechling, all squishy, wet flesh. … She was a machine that turned milk into tears. I couldn’t imagine her as a person.” After his father’s death, Jay decides to find his mother in Berlin. Maybe he’ll never get the answer he wants to “why?”, but it’s worth a try.

These two main characters are easy to relate to – at least, they were for me. They’re the kind of people who get stuck and turn passive, unsure how to change their lives for the better and just letting things happen to them until they hit a crisis point and make a desperate bid for freedom. (“Every day, [Yuki] woke up in a second-hand life, one cut and measured for somebody with sturdier bones.”) Buchanan writes beautifully about everything from color to mental illness, and she gives a clear sense of what it’s like to live between races and countries. Her sentences are peppered with wonderful images and sharp asides. I’d recommend this novel to readers of Mira T. Lee, Tom Rachman, and Hanya Yanagihara.

Favorite lines:

“What bemused her was this God’s all-powerfulness. Life seemed to her like so many signatures scribbled on a bathroom wall, not one vast mural.”

“Yuki promised herself she’d make something beautiful here and her mother would see that it had been worth it.”

“Why did the male IQ divide rather than multiply in groups?”

“Yuki wondered if there was one shining moment when you knew that someone wasn’t worth saving.”

“Why was it that when a fist slammed into your face, it was a jump-start, but heartbreak was a leak in the gas tank?”
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Reading Progress

September 27, 2016 – Shelved as: to-read
September 27, 2016 – Shelved
February 14, 2018 – Started Reading
February 14, 2018 – Shelved as: public-library
March 5, 2018 – Finished Reading
March 13, 2018 – Shelved as: mental-health

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

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Elyse Walters I still remember this book and he went in a long time and it’s Kindle special today and now I have an opportunity to bid your review so good and your quotes really had me thinking about the book again.

Thanks Rebecca. 💕

Elyse Walters Sorry for the typos I was speaking in the phone

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