Friday, April 23, 2010

Review: "If You Follow Me" by Malena Watrous

After her father commits suicide, Marina makes the decision to follow her girlfriend to Japan to teach English for a year. She and her girlfriend, Carolyn, end up in the rural town of Shika together, where they share a small house despite the fact that Carolyn doesn't think that living together so early in their relationship is a good idea. The two teach at different schools, Carolyn at an elementary school and Marina at a highschool, and over their contracted year in Japan they quickly find out how different they are- from one another, and from those around them. Marina makes a friend who it turns out only wants her to tutor her children in English, and she also learns that she will never quite understand gomi law, a law regarding garbage disposal. She comes to understand why it is the teenagers at her school just don't care about learning, and she forms a friendship with her supervisor, Miyoshi-sensei. Ultimately, she must use her time in Japan to come to terms with her father's death and decide how she will let it affect her future.

If You Follow Me is an unconventional love story. It is brutally honest at times, and it offered a window into a culture that is so different from ours. The people in Marina's adopted town of Shika frown on throwing anything away. They have a system to sorting garbage that takes Marina a long time to learn, and she often needs help from her neighbors and supervisor to figure it out. What a difference from our wasteful culture, where we often throw out things that work perfectly well simply so that we can upgrade to the latest and greatest product!

The friendship that develops between Marina and her supervisor, Miyoshi, only served to enhance the story. When Marina's life is falling apart around her- she is having problems dealing with her father's death, and she and Carolyn are having problems in their relationship- soft-spoken Miyoshi, with his love of karyoke and English, is there to help her through it. He's so quiet and unassuming, yet plays a huge role in the book.

If You Follow Me was a story different from many than I've read. I enjoyed the cultural aspect of the book and I enjoyed the complicated friendships and humour. This is of those books that will stick in your mind after you're done simply because it finds a new way to tell an age-old story.

Thank-you to HarperCollins Canada for this review copy. You can browse inside this book here.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Recommended to: Armchair travellers, those looking for a different kind of love story
Challenges: 2010 100+ Reading Challenge, New Author Challenge 2010


  1. This definitely sounds like a different read....and it sounds good. Nice review!

  2. I agree with Missy B - this certainly sounds different and very interesting. The cultural side of the book sounds most rewarding

    Thanks for sharing a lovely review

    Bon weekend


  3. To my awesome book reviewer friend Jonita - I just left you lots of blog love on my latest post. I am sure you won't mind! :-) I really do think you're great and I'm so glad we virtually met! Stop on by when you can -- I'd love for you to answer some of the questions I ask on reading style and tactics. Thanks girl! I hope you're doing well. I'm half-way through my last book. Woo hoo! :)

  4. I love books set in Japan and that showcase different aspects of their culture... this sounds interesting and different kind of story. Thanks for sharing! Nice review!

  5. The cover really caught my attention -- and the novel sounds great! Definitely different. Being an "armchair traveler" (love that!) myself, I'll be looking for this one!