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Go by Kazuki Kaneshiro

book cover of Go

Contemporary YA romance is pretty far outside my usual wheelhouse, but I had a few days left on my Kindle Unlimited trial and this book caught my eye and I went, “Well, why not?” Very glad I took the punt, because I really enjoyed this book.

The main character, Sugihara, is a 16yo Zainichi Korean, which is to say he’s an ethnic Korean whose family has been living in Japan for two generations. They still don’t have Japanese citizenship – they have to choose between North Korean or South Korean nationality. And the book is quite an insightful glimpse into what it’s like (or was like, in 2000 when the book was first written) to grow up as part of such a marginalised community – having to report regularly to the police station to be fingerprinted, not having access to “good” jobs, having the authorities capriciously make decisions against you, etc.

But the book is also a romance: at a party at a nightclub, Sugihara meets Sakurai, a remarkably confident girl who moves quickly to woo him, and so starts a surprisingly fun-to-read teenage romance. They talk about music and book and films and Sakurai fills Sugihara in on all the dating advice being given to teenage girls, which he kinds of responds to with a cute, “oh, OK…” attitude. It’s nice. The only real obstacle to their love is that Sugihara is scared that Sakurai won’t want to be with him any more if she finds out he’s Korean.

I will say that the book is somewhat violent. Sugihara is a bit of a delinquent who gets into fights all the time at school, and his father is an ex-boxer with the same tendency. Even his mum can be prone to flying into violent rages in this book. But the way it’s written is sort of cartoony, almost for laughs, which I think a lot of readers will find inappropriate. At any rate, that’s the one real reservation I had about this book. Overall it was a pretty fun, quick, easy read.

★★★½

photo of Jessica Smith is a left-wing feminist who loves animals, books, gaming, and cooking; she’s also very interested in linguistics, history, technology and society.