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Harmless Like You by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan


Harmless Like You tells the parallel stories of Yuki, a young Japanese woman living in 1960s New York, and Jay, the son she subsequently abandons. When Yuki is 16 her family move back to Tokyo but, despite having no friends, she decides to stay on in America to pursue her true love, art.


The story of her life ultimately leads us to the present day, where her son Jay become a father and, he thinks, a happily married man. It is also the year he will finally confront his mother, who abandoned their family when he was two years old.

It is Buchanan’s debut novel and it is fair to say, she is an exciting and fresh new literary voice. It took me a long time and several false starts to actually pick up the book and get stuck in. It is a slow, smoldering start that might put the average reader off, but stick with it and watch the spark grow. Once I did sit down with it and push through the first few pages, I was hooked.


Every character in the story is broken, damaged and so fragile – much like every person on this earth. However Buchanan perfectly balances the tragedy and grit of real life with beauty. Odile and Lillian – Yuki’s ‘foster’ family in America are, despite their glaring faults, loving and warm. I loved the glimpse of Odile that Jay got, even if it did leave me with more questions than answers.


While reading this gorgeous tale, it’s easy to forget that it is Buchanan’s debut. Her writing is polished and very clever. Yuki is an artist and Buchanan has titled each chapter of Yuki’s story as a colour; giving a description of its properties, uses and history. Don’t skip over them, as they will give you a slight glimpse into what lies ahead.


The two stories intertwine to create one powerful novel about love, loneliness and reconciliation. Harmless Like You is a little like dark chocolate – bitter yet sweet at the same time. While it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, you’ll come out better off having read it.


REVIEWER: Rebekah Fraser

TITLE: Harmless Like You

AUTHOR(S): Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

PUBLISHER: Hachette

RRP: $37.99

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