Book Reviews

Yuki Means Happiness, by Alison Jean Lester

Well hello and a happy new year to you all! Where on earth did the end of 2017 go?! I got swallowed up by work and Christmas prep and general festivities, December was gone in a flash. Which is why it’s been so long since my last actual book review! *slaps wrist*

For my first review of 2018, I thought I’d review Yuki Means Happiness, by Alison Jean Lester.

Diana is young and uneasy in a new relationship when she leaves America and moves halfway around the world to Tokyo seeking adventure. In Japan she takes a job as a nanny to two-year-old Yuki Yoshimura and sets about adapting to a routine of English practice, ballet and swimming lessons, and Japanese cooking.

But as Diana becomes increasingly attached to Yuki she also becomes aware that everything in the Yoshimura household isn’t as it first seemed. Before long, she must ask herself if she is brave enough to put everything on the line for the child under her care, confronting her own demons at every step of the way.

Yuki Means Happiness is a rich and powerfully illuminating portrait of the intense relationship between a young woman and her small charge, as well as one woman’s journey to discover her true self.

I’ve got a real love for all things Japanese and Japan-based books; so when I got this surprise parcel in the post (which I forgotten I’d requested) from the folks at BookBridgr I was delighted. The jacket is beautiful; covered in stunning blooms against a pale cream backdrop.

I absolutely loved Yuki Means Happiness. Lester spent 25 years in Japan and Singapore, and the book overflows with cultural references, Japanese nuances and quirks. Diana’s immersion in this world is both suffocating and liberating, and Lester perfectly depicts the initial culture shock and fear of finding yourself in a foreign country; where you know no-one, don’t know your way around, and can’t speak the language.

“I hadn’t felt brave enough to venture out of Naoki’s neighbourhood on my first Sunday off, and I’d stayed in on the Saturday evening as well. I told myself I liked spending my evenings at home with a book, and it was true. But I was hiding. Having been so intent on adventure when leaving for Tokyo, my feet were suddenly cold.”

The relationship between Diana and Yuki is a massive part of the book, warming and encouraging; and we settle into this as Diana settles into her new role, a strong maternal instinct drawn to Yuki’s beautiful innocence. But there are also darker elements of life in the Yoshimura household, cloaked by Lester’s neat prose until the truth finally unfolds and Diana must make a big and serious decision.

The characters were well developed and rounded, and I found myself almost immediately liking Diana with her sense of restlessness and desire to experience something new. Porter, the boyfriend she left behind in the States; is a coolly confident character who Diana comes to depend on, and who is there for her when she needs his advice.

As the book progresses, we see Diana mature and grow into herself, as the story reaches it’s somewhat shocking and unsettling twist.

Yuki Means Happiness is published by Hodder & Stoughton and available to purchase in paperback from Waterstones.

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