The idea of reading YA novels set in countries different from the usual American setting, which is part of the reason why I was so excited to get a copy of Seven Days of You — a contemporary love story set in Tokyo. I’ve always wanted to go to Japan and I’ve spent some time learning a little Japanese, so the prospect of reading about characters immersed in this beautifully cultural country was very exciting. But what I quickly discovered was that the setting played little part in the narrative. This book could have honestly been set in America, or Australia, and you wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference. The whole culture of Japan was overlooked and basically whitewashed, focussing on a white romance with the country being the “exotic” background to their love story.
Perhaps I would have liked Seven Days of You if the love interest was Japanese, or if Sophia was Japanese or biracial. Basically anything would have been better than portraying Japan as nothing but an exotic holiday destination for white tourists. It was really disrespectful to the rich culture of this country that the author thought the only thing needed to make the setting feel realistic was throwing in some Japanese words here and there. There are enough books out there with straight white protagonists, and Seven Days of You had the perfect opportunity to introduce some diversity into the narrative. But no. It decided to give readers yet another stereotypical love story with an immature protagonist.
Maybe this book would have redeemed itself slightly if it had sensational characters that were interesting and unique, but sadly, that wasn’t something this book excelled at. Our protagonist, Sophia — who was called Sofa for the majority of the novel — was whiney and immature, and seemed to care more about a frankly horrible guy than her best friend. Her friends weren’t much better. Their dynamics seemed to be completely off, and we never actually got to see that they were friends. They spent most of the time bitching about one another with other characters and claiming that everyone was trying to ruin their relationship. Honestly, the protagonist felt more like a twelve year-old who threw tantrums when she didn’t get what she wanted, complete with the feet-stomping and door-slamming of every tween character you hate.
Ultimately, Seven Days of You is a love story that took Japan and erased its culture, leaving it as nothing more than a convenient backdrop for the romance that was trying too hard to be “unique” by dropping in some Japanese words and mentioning Studio Ghibli. The characters were immature and unoriginal, and the author ignored every chance to include some diversity in her narrative. If you’re thinking of reading a YA novel set in a setting other than America, especially an Asian one, I’d suggest picking up a book by an #ownvoices author.
Have you read Seven Days of You yet? What do you think about the idea of the “exotic backdrop”? Have you read any books set in Asia? Can you recommend any YA books with a Japanese protagonist to me? Let’s chat!
Thanks to Hachette Australia for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!
Freedom Swimmer by Wai Chim
Ming survived the famine that killed his parents during China’s ‘Great Leap Forward’, and lives a hard but adequate life, working in the fields…When a group of city boys comes to the village as part of a Communist Party re-education program, Ming and his friends aren’t sure what to make of the new arrivals. They’re not used to hard labour and village life. But despite his reservations, Ming befriends a charming city boy called Li. The two couldn’t be more different, but slowly they form a bond over evening swims and shared dreams…But as the bitterness of life under the Party begins to take its toll on both boys, they begin to imagine the impossible: freedom.
Seven Days of You by Cecilia Vinesse
Sophia has seven days left in Tokyo before she moves back to the States. Seven days to say good-bye to the electric city, her wild best friend, and the boy she’s harboured a semi-secret crush on for years. Seven perfect days…until Jamie Foster-Collins moves back to Japan and ruins everything.
Jamie and Sophia have a history of heartbreak, and the last thing Sophia wants is for him to steal her leaving thunder with his stupid arriving thunder. Yet as the week counts down, the relationships she thought were stable begin to explode around her. And Jamie is the one who helps her pick up the pieces. Sophia is forced to admit she may have misjudged Jamie, but can their seven short days of Tokyo adventures end in anything but good-bye?