IT’S NOT LIKE IT’S A SECRET by MISA SUGIURA
A REVIEW by ALEXA DUNCAN
It’s NotLike It’s a Secret by Misa Sugiura is one of those books I knew I wanted to read when it came out in April of this year, but never got around to reading until recently. This novel follows sixteen-year-old Sana Kiyohara, a Japanese-American girl who gets uprooted from her simple life in Wisconsin to a much more complicated one in Los Angeles, California. It’s Not Like It’s a Secret tackles all sorts of issues—sexuality, racism, classism, and cheating being a few of them. INLIASthrows its hat in the ring of the movement happening in YA right now, of marginalized authors writing marginalized characters, otherwise known as the#OwnVoices movement. INLIAS doesn’t succeed in everything it attempts to do, but it’s a great start, and a highly accessible one at that.
Let me just say it upfront: Much of INLIAS’s plotline revolves around cheating. Sana’s father is cheating on her mother, and even Sana does a little cheating herself later on in the novel. If cheating plot lines aren’t your thing, then I suggest you steer clear of this book. That being said, the other half of INLIAS’s story is about discovering oneself, and coming to terms with who you want to be as a person. Sana struggled with being one of the only Asian kids in her small town in Wisconsin, and it didn’t help that she had a crush on her best friend—a girl. Once Sana and her family move to LA, Sana realizes that the world is much bigger than she previously thought. She even meets a new friend—Jamie Ramirez—who turns out to be far more than a friend.
As Sana grapples with the fact that she probably isn’t straight, she spends a lot of time in the novel trying to catch her father in the act of cheating. I found the back-and-forth to be tiresome after awhile. Was Sana’s dad cheating, or wasn’t he? (Spoiler: He was). Sana herself was a sympathetic character but she was always saying or doing something that made me as a reader cringe away from the book. Jamie, for example, is Latina, and her friends are Latina as well. Sana, being Japanese-American, doesn’t always see eye-to-eye with Jamie or her friends and is even called out for making racist comments toward them at one point in the book. INLIAS isn’t afraid to confront racism head-on, be it casual or otherwise, which I admired it for.
Eventually, Sana and Jamie start dating, unbeknownst to Sana’s conservative mother. Weirdly enough, Sana’s mother might have been my favorite character in the book. Reading about her perspective both as a Japanese woman and a Japanese woman living in America really piqued my interest, because she did and said things I didn’t agree with, but I got a better understanding of the cultural context behind these things she said or did.
INLIAS does a lot of things well—the frank discussions of racism, sexuality, etc. being one of them—but I found myself disappointed that I didn’t connect very much with the characters. Sana was fine, as were the rest of the characters, but none of them stood out to me very much. Sana’s group of friends were delightful to read about, though, and I wish the book was more about them sometimes than Sana.
Nevertheless, I liked It’s Not Like It’s a Secret. Is it my favorite novel of the year? No. But did I enjoy it? Sure. If this book sounds like something you’d enjoy, you should head on over to the Oreana Library to pick up a copy!