Review | It’s Not Like It’s a Secret by Misa Sugiura

It’s Not Like It’s A Secret begins as a cute, promising romance mixed with more serious themes; it veers off the rails when Sana suddenly “can’t stop” the racist tirade coming from her mouth.

[Goodreads Link]
Published by HarperCollins / HarperTeen Imprint

Content Warnings:
Racism: casual racism, model minority myths, stereotyping Asian and Latine students (all condemned by the plot/characters.) Cheating/relationship infidelity. Underage drinking. Casual homophobia, specifically lesbophobia of the “but are you sure/but the right guy” sort (condemned by plot/characters.)

The Good
– #ownvoices Japanese main character
– Sana discovering solidarity and kinship with other Asian students
– Explores nuances of racism and prejudice between different minority groups
– First half has the hallmarks of a cute romance
– Approachable, readable, conversational writing style
– Poems as a style of communication!
– The highs and lows were at the right moments (they just weren’t fun to read tho)

The Bad
– Drama relies on Sana’s sudden out-of-character bouts
– Second half was cringeworthy on a majestic scale
– Literally no one likes cheating storylines
– Lesbian character kissing a guy
– Relationship timeskips
– Some telling over showing
– Overuse of omigod

It’s Not Like It’s A Secret begins as a cute, promising romance mixed with more serious themes; it veers off the rails when Sana suddenly “can’t stop” the racist tirade coming from her mouth.

Story—★★★☆☆ (2.5 Stars)
Sana moves from lily-white where she was the only kid of colour to California, which boasts a more diverse population. She finally has Asian friends who Get It, even if they’re straight. But, if the text messages she’s found on his phone for the past four years are any indication, she’s pretty sure her dad’s cheating on her mom.

Also, her parents don’t know she’s gay.

Also, racism is more nuanced when it’s more than just you and a crowd of white kids.

It’s Not Like It’s A Secret has a lot going on. This is part of its problem. It starts off on a strong enough note, balancing Sana’s new friendships, her worry over where her father is when he’s out doing something late “for work,” and her growing closeness with her crush, Jamie. It was fun to read about Sana connecting with other Asian students and their schemes to manuever around their strict parents, and to read about Sana and Jamie sharing their favourite poems with each other and growing closer. It’s easy to sympathize with Sana when she worries about her father.

Then, halfway through, Sana starts making some bad choices and the whole story gets irritating. Sana suddenly “can’t help herself” as she racially profiles Jamie’s friends in a rant about how the latine students just need to work harder. She kisses a guy when her girlfriend doesn’t text her back. It’s a big ol’ mess. These moments were forced and unnatural. They weren’t good drama, they weren’t fun to read, they were glaringly bad choices.

The best subplot was easily the one about her father’s mysterious texts/possible affair. It’s not a black-and-white situation, and she gets to see and understand the core her parents’ values. Sana grows closer to them as a result, and it’s well-rounded in its execution.

In direct contrast are the storylines featuring her own mistakes, which are hastily swept up with a timeskip and a “Whoops! Sorry about that.”

Sana: I really liked Sana is a first. She’s awkward and her narration is humourous, plus her strict parents and her first crush on her clueless straight best friend make her sympathetic. But once we cross that middle bump and she starts up with the really bad decisions? Listen, I’m all for main characters screwing up, making mistakes, being impulsive, etc., but there’s screwing up, and then there’s the frustrating, sudden out of character moments that only happen for the drama of it all, like Sana going on a tirade stereotyping Mexican Americans or cheating on her girlfriend. Readers hate when characters do something stupid for no good reason, and most readers hate cheating story lines. Especially when the main character a) is in a situation where it’s easy to avoid cheating, and b) had the entire weekend to clear things up with her girlfriend and friends.

Jamie: It’s super cute how Jamie and Sana bond over poetry, sharing and recommending poems for each other. But once they have their cute first kiss, it’s a lot of timeskips, some real bad communication on both ends, and the relationship in general mostly winds up on the back-burner.

The rest: The supporting cast was solidly characterized, and although the reader frequently encounters different groups of characters, it’s easy to tell everyone apart. No one felt same-y. I particularly liked Sana’s relationship with her parents. In the last section, I found Caleb really annoying and melodramatic. So what? The girl you kissed once, literally a few days ago, is gay. It sucks, but there’s no need to be an angsty baby for weeks.

Writing Style—★★★★☆ (3.5 Stars)
It’s Not Like It’s A Secret is written in first person, present tense from Sana’s point of view. Chapters are occasionally interspersed with Sana’s commentary on certain poems.

Sugiura wrote It’s Not Like It’s A Secret in a bright, conversational style. It’s decently polished for a debut book: it has a natural flow and is very readable. Although Sugiura captures emotional well at times (Sana’s bathroom stall breakdown was perfect!) there’s also a lot of telling over showing in some key spots that effectively kneecap a scene emotionally. Also: the use of omigod as an exclamation once or twice is fair, but using it over two dozen times is grating.

Themes and Representation—★★★☆☆
It’s Not Like It’s A Secret has an #ownvoices Japanese American protagonist, Sana, who is also a lesbian. Her immediate friend group is also Asian, specifically Vietnamese and Chinese from Hong Kong. Jamie, her girlfriend, is Mexican American and implied to be a lesbian. There are numerous supporting Mexican American characters from Jamie’s friend group, as well. It’s Not Like It’s A Secret often deals with the generation and cultural difference between Sana and her parents, particularly with how they approach things like secrets and truth. This last part is quite nice and one of the highlights of the book.

But… On one hand we have all this wonderful representation present on the page; on the other, we have a lesbian main character—specifically lesbian, not bi or pan or ambiguously queer or sapphic—who cheats on her girlfriend by kissing a guy. And readers also have to endure Sana regurgitating some unpleasant Mexican American stereotypes, which wouldn’t make any Mexican American or other latine readers feel great.

Overall—★★★☆☆ (3.25 Stars)

Recommended For…
Readers looking for YA books tackling stereotyping and racism between minority communities; readers looking for authentic Japanese American representation.

Genres: Young Adult, LGBT+, YA Contemporary, LGBT+ YA, Debut Book

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