If You Follow Me (Blog Tour)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Title: If You Follow Me
Author: Malena Watrous
Pages: 354
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Harper Perennial (Harper Collins)
Release Date: March 9, 2010

"I am kind of so sorry."
"You have committed a rude."

The use of the above accented English is just one way in which Malena Watrous, debut author of If You Follow Me, transports her readers to Japan where 22-year-old Marina has moved with her girlfriend, Carolyn, to teach for a year. Carolyn and Marina meet each other at a grief support group after Marina's father committs suicide. They are disappointed to find they have been assigned to schools in the Japanese countryside rather than in the city of Tokyo where they requested. Nevertheless, they immerse themselves in the Japanese culture -- though some of the immersion is involuntary. In the beginning of the novel they constantly find themselves in trouble with an unexpected cultural norm -- for not separating their garbage correctly and putting the different types of garbage out on the correct days.

As they learn to deal with the garbage issue (gomi) and other cultural roadblocks they come across, they also grow individually. (Although I will say at one point I thought "enough with the gomi!" LOL). But the amount of time spent on the gomi issue only enhanced the understanding of the cultural attitudes to which Marina had to learn to adjust. Meanwhile, Marina hoped her relationship with Carolyn would grow stronger by moving to Japan together. This is despite having to keep their relationship a secret, due to the more stringent attitudes of the Japanese culture. But somewhere along the line their relationship starts to fall victim to the same pitfalls of so many relationships.

I really saw this book as hardly about Carolyn at all. It was more about Marina and her own growth as a person and learning who she is. She spends the entire novel learning how to deal with the unexpected death of her father. Her time spent assimilating to the Japanese cultural is almost therapeutic in that it helps her reflect on her life as a whole and what her father's death means in it all.

The book is broken up into 4 parts. Each part represents a season of the year she is there, and, in a way, it represents another level of growth Marina has made. Ms. Watrous expertly writes about many of the nuances of the Japanese culture but does so by inserting these mannerisms into the characters. The writing was beautiful and in no way reflective of a new author. But then Ms. Watrous isn't new to writing. She has an extensive history of writing stories, essays, and book reviews. (Check out her website for details). Her characters, specifically Marina, were very real and genuine. I never felt that anything was contrived, and Marina's growth as a person throughout the novel seemed authentic. Comedic moments combined with somber reflections throughout and created an honest portrayal of humanity and of people trying to understand each other's differences.

And you can't ignore the beautiful cover!! I also want to quote an author who provided her thoughts on the book because I don't quite feel that my more amateur writing ability adequately sums up the essence of this book.

Curtis Sittenfield, author of Prep and American Wife says "It's fearlesly honest, ocasionally heartbreaking, and extremely funny..."

The synopsis on the back of the book also calls If You Follow Me "a dark comedy of manners." I thought both of these quotes described this book perfectly.

So, in summary, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and thought it was very well done. Marlena Watrous has proven to be an excellent author in writing, storytelling, and character depictions,
and I can't wait to read more by her.

Stay tuned for an interview with Marlena Watrous about If You Follow Me and her writing in general!

Other reviews:
Connie at Constance Reader


Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

FAB review!
Lovely cover :)

Bonnie said...

I spent a summer in Japan and loved it. Thanks for the review.

dolcebellezza said...

I thought, "Enough with the garbage" too, although it did make the point of cultural differences quite clearly. Somehow, the relationship between Caroline and Marina got in the way of me being able to fully appreciate the story. I was able to picture myself as a teacher in Japan, however.

Stephanie aka The Stark Raving Bibliophile said...

This sounds wonderful. I love novels with rich character development that offer genuine glimpses into other cultures.

Staci said...

I enjoyed your review...wished I would've liked it as much as you did!

Connie said...

This looks fantastic. Thanks for the review!

Ah Yuan // wingstodust said...

This sounds lovely. I'm looking forward to the interview, and getting my hands on my own copy of this novel!

Creations by Laurel-Rain Snow said...

Wonderful review! I am now adding this one to my list.

Jeannie @ Pine Cottage Books said...

Nice review! I think this is one I would like to read.

Jeannie @ Pine Cottage Books said...

I have an award for you on my blog :)

trish said...

Yay! I'm glad you liked it! I think this book is one of those really divisive books: some like it, some hate it. Perfect for book club! LOL

Jenny said...

Oh I totally thought I already replied to everyone's comments, but apparently not! Sorry!

Anyway, thanks for the nice review compliments. I really did like this book.

Trish, I noticed how the reviews have been very good or bad.. no middle, lol. But you're right, good for a book club!

Zibilee said...

Wow! Wonderful review of this book! I really loved it as well and thought that it was so interesting to watch the way Marina learned to handle her new surroundings and the people in them. At times I felt the book was a little dark, but just when things got to feeling a little overwhelming, the humor would return full force and make me reassess. Very thought provoking review, you certainly have an amazing way with words!

Jenny said...

Zibilee -- thanks so much for the compliment! I'm glad you liked the book too.. it definitely seems like people either love it or hate it. I also thought exactly as you did that the humor would lighten it up whenever it got dark.

Jennifer said...

Great review. I loved reading Curtis Sittenfield's work and seeing such a glowing review from her and you makes me want to pick this up. It certainly sounds like an interesting look at Japanese culture and being half Japanese myself that certainly interests me.

-Jennifer @ www.justicejennifer.com

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