Review: I Love You So Mochi by Sarah Kuhn

Kimi Nakamura loves a good fashion statement.

She’s obsessed with transforming everyday ephemera into Kimi Originals: bold outfits that make her and her friends feel like the Ultimate versions of themselves. But her mother disapproves, and when they get into an explosive fight, Kimi’s entire future seems on the verge of falling apart. So when a surprise letter comes in the mail from Kimi’s estranged grandparents, inviting her to Kyoto for spring break, she seizes the opportunity to get away from the disaster of her life.

When she arrives in Japan, she’s met with a culture both familiar and completely foreign to her. She loses herself in the city’s outdoor markets, art installations, and cherry blossom festival – and meets Akira, a cute aspiring med student who moonlights as a costumed mochi mascot. And what begins as a trip to escape her problems quickly becomes a way for Kimi to learn more about the mother she left behind, and to figure out where her own heart lies.

In I Love You So Mochi, author Sarah Kuhn has penned a delightfully sweet and irrepressibly funny novel that will make you squee at the cute, cringe at the awkward, and show that sometimes you have to lose yourself in something you love to find your Ultimate self.

  • Title: I Love You So Mochi
  • Author: Sarah Kuhn
  • Publisher: Dreamscape Media, LLC
  • Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance, Rom-Com
  • Targeted Age Range: Young Adult
  • Representation: Predominantly Japanese/Japanese-American cast, Black and lesbian side character
  • Trigger Warnings: Family estrangement, mentions of Japanese internment camps (chapters 8 & 15), racism (chapter 12), mention of cancer (chapter 15)
  • Rating:  ★★★★★

I read I Love You So Mochi for the first time in November this year and I absolutely loved it. I started the audiobook one night when I couldn’t sleep and I ended up staying awake all night to finish it because I just couldn’t stop reading. Right from the beginning, I was completely captivated by Kimi and her journey of self-discovery. 

I loved the writing style! I love books that, as long as done well, have a conversational writing style and in my opinion, I Love You So Mochi does this extremely well. Because we read everything from Kimi’s point of view, I found it easy to understand the choices that she made even if sometimes I didn’t agree with them. I found everything to be very vivid, which made it easy to imagine all of the beautiful locations that Kimi was in while visiting Japan. As someone with a background in sewing, I loved how detailed Kimi’s descriptions for her designs were! For me, the designs leapt off the page and really came to life, which added a lot to the story for me.

I thought that Kimi and Akira were so dang cute! I loved their playful energy and how they encouraged and supported one another. While, yes, parts of their romance were definitely rushed (I mean she’s only in Japan for 2 weeks), I really did think that their bond was pretty adorable. Personally, what helped me invest in them, was that their friendship/relationship was rooted in real respect and admiration for each other. Akira eagerly suggests that he can help Kimi discover her passion, with no prodding from her to do so, and he does just that. Something that is common in writing (which is also unfortunately very common in life) is having the male character dismiss the female character’s interest in fashion or anything else that is considered typically “feminine”. When Kimi expresses her interest in fashion and shows Arika her sketches, he praises her skill, listens to her intently while she talks about fashion, and encourages her to follow her passions for design. In fact, one of the best moments that shows this in my opinion is when Kimi sees a group of girls taking photos in their brightly colored Yukatas. Kimi, so moved by the sight, starts to cry and instead of teasing her and making fun of her, Akira asks her what made that so special for her and he encourages her to do things that invoke that same kind of emotion from her. I absolutely loved that and think that he is a great example of a caring and supportive friend/boyfriend. I really liked all aspects of their relationship, even the rushed parts.

As fun and cute as Kimi and Akira are, this book is all about self-discovery. I know some people have found issues with how long it takes Kimi to realize that fashion design is her passion and what she wants to do with her life. As the reader you know right from the start that design is her passion because of the way that she discusses fashion and design, and while I understand that it can be a bit frustrating to listen to her (and her mom) dismiss it as a career, think about it, how many of us actually knew what we wanted to do for the rest of our lives when we were 17? (I mean I did, but I was very lucky in that regard). I think something else that is important to understanding Kimi’s difficulty to just say that clothing/designing is her passion is that her entire life her mom has dismissed her interest in clothing as a hobby and Kimi is ultimately worried about disappointing her parents, especially her mom. Trust me, as Atsuko would probably point out with her “Asain Mom Math”, there is nothing worse than disappointing your mom, especially when she’s made so many sacrifices to help you achieve all of your goals. Kimi is also the kind of character that feels more comfortable imagining a situation than actually doing something to make it happen. She’s constantly worried that the actual outcome will never be as satisfying as the fantasy in her head is, so she avoids it altogether.

“It is also the type of conversation I almost never have. Because talking about things that are “weighing a lot” inevitably opens you up to complications and messiness. It totally ruins things by making them too real”

The wonderful thing about the Japan trip and her relationship with Akira is that it forces Kimi to step outside of her comfort zone and really go after the things that she wants, even if it might not work out the way that she wants it to. 

My absolute favorite part of this book is the relationship that Kimi develops with her grandparents. I’ve mentioned this on the blog before, but stories that have a strong focus on relationships between teenagers and their grandparents just mean so much to me. While one set of my grandparents lived on the other side of the country, I was very fortunate to have wonderful relationships with all of them. The story arc that Kimi and her grandparents went through absolutely warmed my heart. I could’ve read an entire book just about them and their relationship. 

While both of my grandfathers weren’t actually like Kimi’s grandfather, his joyful spirit and the way that he so clearly loved Kimi and wanted to connect with her reminded me of my grandfathers. Some of my favorite scenes were when Kimi would sit with him after her adventures and he would be working on his model trains while she was sketching and they would eat his limited edition Snickers. I loved those scenes so much and wish there were more of them. My absolute favorite scene between Kimi and her grandfather was towards the end of her visit and he shyly asks if they can keep in touch once she goes back to America. It made me cry both times that I read it. It was a really beautiful and vulnerable moment between them.

Kimi’s relationship with her grandmother, while it took a little longer for the two of them to understand each other, was also lovely. I adored how what they bonded over was fashion and design. Without even knowing it, all these years, they had something in common and it’s this that brings them together. I thought it was so beautiful how even though she didn’t meet her grandmother until she was 17, and didn’t have much contact with her, when they’re designing together they fully understand one another. I felt like it showed how Kimi was the bridge that was able to bring her mother and her grandparents back together which was very moving. Reading about the two of them sewing together reminded me of when I was young and my grandmother would let me “cook” with her (aka I got to separate the lumpia wrappers and roll them once they were ready). The scene where Kimi gets back home and her grandmother was working in the garden reminded me of being a little girl and running around playing my grandma’s garden while she was tending to it. Reading this book brought back so many beautiful memories of me with my grandparents and that part of the story really touched me and means so much to me. I am very grateful for that.

Overall I thought that I Love You So Mochi was a beautiful coming of age story with a super sweet love story. I felt connected to all of the characters and their stories, and of course I loved all of the mentions of mochi – in fact I went out and bought some mochi because I’ve been desperately craving it since my first read in November. I Love You So Mochi is one of my favorite reads of 2020 and one that I know that I will be revisiting it many times.

Also, it’s important to note that I am not Japanese/Japanese-American. If my review has made you interested in reading I Love You So Mochi I would highly recommend also checking out some own voice reviews. While I have not found many, I did find this review by Japan-based reviewer Novels and Waffles. Once I find others I will update this post to share them.

About the Author

Sarah Kuhn is the author of the popular Heroine Complex novelsa series starring Asian American superheroines. The first book is a Locus bestseller, an RT Reviewers’ Choice Award nominee, and one of the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog’s Best Books of 2016. Her YA debut, the Japan-set romantic comedy I Love You So Mochi, is a Junior Library Guild selection and a nominee for YALSA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults. She has also penned a variety of short fiction and comics, and her hotly anticipated graphic novel Shadow of the Batgirl is coming out in early 2020 from DC Comics. Additionally, she was a finalist for both the CAPE (Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment) New Writers Award and the Astounding Award for Best New Writer. A third generation Japanese American, she lives in Los Angeles with her husband and an overflowing closet of vintage treasures.

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