“Micah in Real Life” by Emiko Jean (William Morrow)
Mika Suzuki is a directionless, 35-year-old Japanese woman who has a big secret: she gave her daughter up for adoption when she was 19.
Emiko Jean’s latest novel, “Micah in Real Life,” takes place when Mika undergoes a major transformation as he is reunited with his daughter, Penny. Eventually, Micah has to deal with the events that left her hopelessly single, persistently disappointed in her mother, and figure out how to have a relationship with her child, from the day she took Penny. Didn’t talk with been born.
In an effort not to look like such a loser, Micah begins weaving a tapestry of lies to make up the life of Micah 2.0; Who she wants to be and probably could be. Micah gives his life an undeserved glow that will surely fly in his face.
It’s hard to enjoy when things are going right for Mika because you know that whole glass of sugar will sooner or later shatter. The whole time you’re thinking of ways to get mica clean because it’s the only and obvious solution right from the start. Micah’s reasons for lying in the first place aren’t particularly compelling anyway.
Fortunately, it only takes about a third of the book before that train wreck moves onto the greener pastures. The novel begins when Jean reveals Micah in real life – not only a Micah who is honest, but a better, rounded character. He is more reliable.
When Micah decides to be honest with herself and others, she begins to process her life. “Mika in Real Life” explores universal issues—such as happiness and the challenges of being a parent—as well as subtleties, such as the particular stresses of the trauma of the Suzuki family: her mother being uprooted in a foreign land, Mika’s death. Exploring Penny’s identity as a Japanese American raised by white parents in Ohio, her experiences of her being pregnant and leaving the arts.
The second half of the book makes Mika a far more pleasant company. She is not perfect, but she has glimpses of balance in her life and she strives to be something and be something.
For the first bit, “Micah in Real Life” relies on its interesting premise to pull readers through flat predictability and buckshot-style writing that turns everything into an opportunity for flashbacks and exposition.
But I am grateful for Jean’s tenacity, because it is worth going through a rough start to achieve the novel’s redemptive, poignant ending. “Micah in Real Life” has heart, and it touched my heart.