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Mika in Real Life

Review

Mika in Real Life

From Emiko Jean, the bestselling author of young adult books, comes MIKA IN REAL LIFE, a witty, hilarious and tender novel about the reunion between 35-year-old Mika and the 16-year-old daughter she gave up for adoption at birth.

Mika is a bit unmoored. The daughter of strict, traditional Japanese parents, she has never really lived up to anyone’s expectations, least of all her own. She has been single for a year, her last relationship ending in a fiery dispute with no solid resolution. She has a ride-or-die best friend, Hana, who she lives with, but their home is not tidy or cozy thanks to Hana’s late-night QVC binges. And she just got fired…again. Mika is drowning her sorrows in the brightly lit aisles of Target when her cell phone rings and changes everything. The voice on the other end is new to her but familiar to her heart: Penny, the daughter she gave up for adoption 16 years ago when she was only a freshman in college.

"Readers of Emiko Jean’s young adult novels will not be surprised that she has tackled fiction for adults with grace and wisdom. But newcomers will surely find a new favorite in MIKA IN REAL LIFE, which is perfect for fans of Rebecca Serle, Jennifer E. Smith and Jamie Brenner."

Penny was adopted by Caroline and Thomas Calvin, truly loving, adoring parents who made great efforts to keep Penny close to her Japanese heritage while also keeping Mika informed about her daughter through yearly letters and pictures. However, in the last year, Caroline has passed away, and Penny has started to wonder about her birth mother. Through the power of the internet, she tracks down Mika and asks if they can video chat. Mika is, of course, elated but also understandably shocked, which leads her to make a huge mistake. She invents a whole new bright and shiny life to share with Penny, one in which she owns her own home, is in a relationship with gorgeous, brilliant Leif, and has just quit her job to open her own gallery.

As they continue texting, calling and video chatting, Mika’s lies build and build until the inevitable happens. Penny announces that she has spent her birthday money on a flight to Portland to meet Mika, visit her home and attend her big gallery opening. Now Mika has two choices: come clean or create the life she has invented, for real. With the help of her best friends Hana and Charlie, and even her reluctant ex, Mika makes her choice. Now she has T-minus 10 days to clean her hoarder home, fake get back together with Leif, and somehow pull off a gallery opening. Through it all, persistent thoughts about her pregnancy with Penny and her birth draw painful memories and old hurts to the surface.

When Mika and Penny finally meet, their relationship is easy, beautiful and fulfilling, despite Penny’s tightlaced, unsmiling adoptive dad tagging along. But even he seems to warm to Mika as her fake life takes center stage and all the impressive, ambitious goals she had for herself before she got pregnant finally start to seem real. Of course, the illusion can only last so long; it is when Mika’s lies come crashing down that her real life can actually begin. Whereas she was once aiming for a friendship-like relationship with Penny, Mika now must assume the role of a mother who is doing her best, which, as Thomas teaches her, is really what all parents do in the end. The real question, though, is if Mika can be as true to herself as she wants to be to her daughter, which means facing both her own judgmental and discerning mother and her role as Penny’s mother.

While the premise of MIKA IN REAL LIFE is familiar enough, Emiko Jean makes the adopted child–meets–birth parent narrative her own in this sparkling, tender and emotionally resonant novel. Although Mika is the protagonist, and she clearly harbors a lot of pain about giving Penny up for adoption, Jean is careful to chronicle both her journey and that of Penny’s adoptive parents, showing the highs and lows, joys and pains of each side, never favoring one over the other or suggesting that one side is better than the other. The transition of Mika and Penny’s relationship from strangers to friends to mother/child is the highlight of the book, but Jean is equally tender in her portrayal of the adoptive parent meeting the birth parent, and the emotional reunion of Mika and her mother, not to mention Penny’s own emotional and mental growth as a teen.

Readers of Emiko Jean’s young adult novels will not be surprised that she has tackled fiction for adults with grace and wisdom. But newcomers will surely find a new favorite in MIKA IN REAL LIFE, which is perfect for fans of Rebecca Serle, Jennifer E. Smith and Jamie Brenner.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on August 12, 2022

Mika in Real Life
by Emiko Jean

  • Publication Date: August 2, 2022
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow
  • ISBN-10: 0063215683
  • ISBN-13: 9780063215689