I received an advance reader’s copy of This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura a LONG time ago, but ended up listening to the audiobook instead. Go figure.
CJ Katsuyama has never been the best in school, or extracurriculars, and she has no idea what she wants to do with her life. She enjoys working with her aunt at her family’s flower shop, but her mother wants more for her. Then, when she learns that her mother wants to sell the shop—to the family who bought it in 1942 when the Katsuyamas were taken to an internment camp, no less. So CJ decides to take a stand for the first time in her life, and maybe save the thing she cares for most.
I like CJ as a protagonist. She’s strong and fun, but not without flaws that drive her development. Her insecurities cause much of the conflict in this book—with her friends, with her mother, and with herself. Being raised by such an ambitious mother with such lofty expectations for her has clearly affected her self-esteem, and seeing her try to break out of the cycle of doubt was compelling. Also witnessing her doubts as she realizes she has started to drift away from her best friend was heart-wrenching. Most people have a friend they’ve grown apart from for seemingly no reason, and wonder why, so CJ’s struggles with this were relatable and emotional.
I like the side characters as well. Hannah, Owen, and Emily were my favorites, but all the side characters were distinct and written well. The most interesting character (besides CJ) was definitely CJ’s mother, who is so complex and frustrating and amazing all at the same time. Her relationship with CJ is the heart and soul of this book, and it’s remarkable to watch their interactions as the plot progresses.
As for the plot, I have to admit I didn’t fully know what to expect when I started this book. I thought this would be a rather light tale about a family banding together to try to save their store against all odds, with the backdrop of some troublesome history. But in fact, this book is somehow a family drama, a romcom, and a call for social justice. It’s much more than I expected, and I really enjoyed it.
The themes explored—like systemic racism, generational trauma, self-esteem, and the struggle that minorities sometimes have to face when trying to represent themselves—are deep, but not too heavy. They’re portrayed with sensitivity and understanding, and end up being pretty uplifting. I walked away feeling like I had learned several things from this book, and it was a great feeling.
I do wish there had been a little more resolution in this book. The ending, to me, felt a little rushed and not entirely satisfying. Sure, there was promise and hope, but I wanted to see what CJ ended up doing, wanted to get a glimpse of her in the future. But I suppose the way it was left a little unresolved was poignant and reflective of how life is. (I’d still have preferred a more concluded conclusion, though.)
In the end, This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura was an excellent book. The plot weaves family tension, work issues, shifting friendships, and burgeoning love in a really skillful way. There’s heart and humor and excitement. Some of the high school interpersonal drama wasn’t my favorite, and the ending felt a little lacking to me, but all in all this was a wonderful story. The representation of Japanese Americans, as well as queer characters, is very well done. I’d definitely recommend this book!
Overall rating: 8.5/10