Title: Yuki Means Happiness
Author: Alison Jean Lester
Publisher: John Murray
Book format: Hardback
Description: Diana is young and uneasy in a new relationship when she leaves America and moves halfway around the world to Tokyo seeking adventure. In Japan she takes a job as a nanny to two-year-old Yuki Yoshimura and sets about adapting to a routine of English practice, ballet and swimming lessons, and Japanese cooking.
But as Diana becomes increasingly attached to Yuki she also becomes aware that everything in the Yoshimura household isn’t as it first seemed. Before long, she must ask herself if she is brave enough to put everything on the line for the child under her care, confronting her own demons at every step of the way.
Yuki Means Happiness is a rich and powerfully illuminating portrait of the intense relationship between a young woman and her small charge, as well as one woman’s journey to discover her true self.
*Free copy provided by publisher for review…
Review: This book is a surprisingly emotional read, filled with both heartwarming moments and many darker moments too. Diana is a nurse and having previously helped a Japanese couple with their newborn baby when they were staying in America, she jumps at the chance to travel to Japan and become a nanny for the same couple a few years later. But while there, Diana realises that things are no longer as they were with the couple and worries about Yuki, the little girl she’s promised to look after.
The story is written in the first person and takes place in the nineties with Diana recounting the story of her time with Yuki. I’ll be honest in saying I wasn’t sure I’d get into the book at first, although I had high hopes having read the description, but this is definitely a book that gets better the further you read on. Diana’s story of her time in Japan appears simple at first. She instantly gets attached to Yuki and loves looking after her while getting to know the Japanese culture. But as time goes on the story starts to take a darker edge and it’s at this point that I really began to enjoy this book.
I loved the way the story unfolded, everything seemed fine but then certain circumstances changed all of a sudden and the atmosphere of the story changed too. As Diana learns more about Yuki’s family, the darker the story becomes. Along with dealing with looking after Yuki and the issues surrounding the family, the story of Diana’s own personal experiences both in the past and in Japan, especially the Japanese culture and the more unpleasant aspects of being a woman in modern Japan take on an interesting edge and influence how she feels about her job as a nanny. At times Diana is brutally honest about her past and it gave her character more depth which was good.
The book has a lot about Japanese culture and I loved reading these parts as it really gave me a sense of what it would be like to go to Japan, something I’ve wanted to do for years now. A lot of the ‘tourist’ side of Japan is included but I also loved the more in depth and honest accounts of what Japan is really like in areas where tourists don’t go, and what day to day life is like. The book really had me absorbed in the modern culture of Japan and it left me with mixed feelings about the place, particularly when it comes to women and legal issues.
The ending is very satisfying and made me a little emotional, but in a good way. There is very little use of any swearing, but the f and s words have been used. While there is nothing really offensive in the book, no actual sex or anything violent, Diana is honest about things like sexuality and sex and there are other moments that make you feel a little shocked too.
I’d recommend this book, although it took me a bit of time to really enjoy it, I really got into the story towards the end and the honesty around Japanese culture and things Diana goes through with the Yuki’s family are a very insightful and interesting read.
-Review first appeared online September 2017 – now republished here.
Do you like books with cultrural themes? What do you think of this novel? Let me know what you think in the comments below 🙂