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Sitting in his favorite spot, Manga artist Kobayashi Haru is watching the cherry blossums fall when he spies Sakurai Aki near him. Sakurai Aki’s cool beauty is mesmerizing and soon Haru is trying to engage the man in a conversation and asking for his phone number, which Sakurai reluctantly gives him. Kobayashi Haru knows he falls in love easily and is just coming off a bad relationship, but something about the withdrawn Sakurai draws Haru in and captures his affections.
But Sakurai Aki seems to be straight and Haru tries to hide his feelings, even as their friendship progresses forward. Haru is forthcoming about his feelings, his friends, his family, even his ex, but Sakurai remains a mystery. Sakurai doesn’t offer any information about himself to Haru and Haru accepts this even when their relationship turns sexual. Haru starts to think he has found his perfect man in Sakurai until his past is revealed to Haru in a manner unspeakably painful and shocking. Feeling betrayed , Haru cuts off the relationship and all communication with Sakurai Aki, listening to his friends. But his heart has a different idea when Sakurai returns to him asking for forgiveness.
What a mess of a book. I was really looking forward to this as a Japanese setting and characters hit many of my buttons, but I can say that this entire story is a real miss in almost every respect. What I can’t figure out is where to place the blame? It’s not with the plot, that’s ok. It’s not even with the secondary characterizations or even the character of Sakurai Aki. The whole blighted mess falls directly on the shoulders of the main character of Kobayashi Haru. This character and the author’s viewpoint are the issue here.
Take one hot mess of a main character and tell the story from his POV. This can work if the character’s problems are part of the storyline. Great books are full of characters full of faults, compulsions, and phobias if that is used to the plot’s advantage and makes sense within the whole of the story, whether you are dealing with hubris or redemption or both. It can be used effectively in humorous stories full of whacky characters doing wonderfully crazy things or books about societal and cultural expectations. I am sure that just reading this brought a number of books to mind in every genre. Whether the characters are flying over the cuckoo’s nest or having sex in the city, solving crimes and chasing pigs about the English countryside, I normally take these creations to heart with all the appreciation and verve of a starving woman at Thanksgiving dinner.
None of that happens here. Let me give you a list of Haru’s characteristics and I think you will get an idea of where I am going here. Kobayashi Haru is:
A 28-year-old Manga artist, supposedly shy, with a predilection for relationships with men who beat him, abuse him, are into rough sex, and pay no attention to his sexual needs. Haru is also a binge drinker with limited friends. Actually he has one friend, Jeff, his American co worker, along with Jeff’s Japanese wife. They are rightfully concerned about him but he disregards their advice and assistance. He talks to his dead mother (his father left early on) and while he says he is ok with his sexuality, it comes across as a timorous acceptance of his gayness. Haru feels that the beatings inflicted upon him by his latest boyfriend were his fault, and while Haru can’t stand to have his ex’s name mentioned, he wants to talk to him and explain the event that precipitated their breakup. And that breakup? Kenichi, the ex boyfriend, becomes jealous about not being invited to a party, so he beats and kicks Haru unmercifully until Jeff intervenes and then spits on Haru before leaving Haru broken and crying on the floor, not for the first time. In addition to being a victim of domestic violence, Haru also has all the emotional maturity of a teenager who throws tantrums, throws money in his friend’s face (a serious cultural no no) upon hearing advice he knows to be true, and then starts drinking himself into a stupor all over again. This guy doesn’t need one 12-step program, he needs a gazillion of them to cover all his issues.
Right about now, you are probably thinking either that Haru needs to find a therapy group to attend 24/7 to work on his issues or that we will be looking at a serious take on domestic abuse within the Japanese culture or at least domestic violence within the gay community, an under reported crime no matter the country. Nope, not at all. You see, Haru is supposed to be a “happy, positive, naive” man child character that all look at with adoration and love. All the serious issues and character flaws are given light-hearted treatment that never addresses the serious nature of the problems this character has been endowed with. The significant question as to why Haru needs to fall in love quickly with men so obviously damaged, why he lets them treat him in an abusive manner? All brushed under the rug with a simplistic “oh I deserve better” epiphany at the end. The binge drinking and immaturity? Nope, never dealt with. And the fact that he relentlessly pursues an emotionally withdrawn “straight” man in Sakurai Aki? I think we are supposed to find that commendable, that he goes for what he wants even though it is also stated that Haru is intensely shy. *head desk*
Believe it or not, it actually gets worse. When Sakurai Aki’s “secret” is revealed, Haru is shocked to find out that Sakurai is gay even thought Sakurai never said that he was straight. This was an assumption on Haru’s part and a strange one after they have made love innumerable times with Sakurai being the most attentive and tender lover Haru has ever had. You see, Haru thought that turning “straight” Sakurai Aki gay meant that Haru is special. So finding out that he was gay all along somehow negates that “specialness” for Haru. And the rest of the secret? Well, lets just say Haru’s blithe disregard of condoms, to Sakurai’s dismay, was not a good idea at all, but was in keeping with his emotional immaturity. Haru wants Sakurai when he thinks he’s straight? And is upset to find out he’s gay? Emotional immaturity and teenage expectations seem to reign supreme here.
You won’t find this hard to believe but the character I liked (other than the reasonable Jeff) is Sakurai Aki. Had he been a real character, I would have been telling him to report Haru as a stalker and giving him cab money out of the city, along with the advice to “run, just run.” But no, this is a HEA which begs more questions as to why than I have space to answer. Mostly, I want to know what the author was thinking. How do you bring up all these issues and imbue your main character with all these serious flaws and not address them? And no, “I like me, I really like me” is not addressing them. The spitting on the face? Serious cultural taboo not dealt with in a book that makes a big issue of the American character’s intentionally incorrect Japanese terminology. I did some investigation and found that domestic violence in Japan is a growing problem not addressed by laws and regulations but that was never brought up here either. All in all I am just floored by Moone’s cavalier treatment of so many serious issues. This is the first book by the author that I have read so I have no other reference to judge her writing by to see if this is a typical story of hers. I certainly hope not. I wouldn’t wish this book on any reader.
“A fallen blossom does not return to the branch; a broken mirror cannot be made to shine” —Japanese proverb. This proverb opens the story Fallen Sakura. It’s too bad that the author did not take it to heart. Or maybe she did not understand it. For this broken mirror was shattered from the start and nothing that followed could ever put it right.
Cover: Beautiful cover by Anne Cain. This book does not deserve it.