Book Review | Mika in Real Life (ARC)

I received an advance reader’s copy (ARC) of Mika in Real Life by Emiko Jean. Since this version is just a proof and not the final version, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.

In Mika in Real Life, Mika has just lost her job and is struggling to make ends meet, even while living with her messy best friend. So when the child she gave up for adoption sixteen years ago calls her out of the blue, Mika finds herself fudging the details of her life, just a little. Well, maybe a lot. Now, she’s supposedly a successful career woman with a great boyfriend. But beyond the lies, her bond with her daughter Penny grows stronger the more they talk. And as she and Penny grow closer, so does her bond with Penny’s adoptive father Thomas. Now if only Mika can navigate the complex waters she’s found herself in, and not get caught in her lies.

I’ve read another book by this author, and this one sounded fun!

I did like Mika as a character. She’s full of flaws, but also is very sympathetic as she deals with the complicated feelings that come from getting to know her biological daughter, and from the fraught relationship she has with her mother. And the reasons for her deceiving Penny are clear, and never really treated as the correct course of action by the narrative, which I appreciated. Her journey from using white lies to make Penny like her, to seeking genuine connection with her family, is touching.

I also liked Penny, Thomas, and Mika’s roommate Hana, though I think they could have been given a little more depth. Especially in regards to Thomas, as I wasn’t all that invested in his relationship with Mika. It didn’t feel entirely necessary, and in fact seemed pretty convenient to the story overall. It’s a nice way to bring them all together as a family, especially after Penny’s adoptive mother died years before the book starts, but I still think the same result could have been achieved without the slightly underdeveloped romance. But hey, some of their banter was charming; I just don’t think it had progressed enough for me to buy into it overall.

Going off of that, some of the pacing felt a little rushed to me in places. I would have liked to spend more time on Penny exploring her Japanese heritage, like the scene with the Obon dance. I also would have liked to spend more time with Mika as she gets her life back on track. But, slightly too fast as it was, it still got across the changes and emotions that I think Jean intended to, and I was entertained the whole time.

There is a significant content warning I want to mention, though. A character recalls being drugged and sexually assaulted at a party, and how that has affected various aspects of her life. There are also some instances of alcohol—once by a minor—as well as of language and some mild consensual sexual content. But the first one is the main one; it isn’t too graphic, but it also doesn’t shy away from the fear the character feels in that moment.

In the end, though, Emiko Jean’s novel Mika in Real Life is a sweet story about building a family, and rebuilding a life. It’s about finding connection to things like heritage and parents, about searching for and forging one’s own identity. There are some aspects that didn’t feel entirely believable to me, but there are also plenty of decent character and relationship moments, as well as good banter and emotion. Overall, this is an entertaining story.

Mika in Real Life will be published on August 2nd, 2022!

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