Review: Swimming to Tokyo by Brenda St. John Brown

Review: Swimming to Tokyo by Brenda St. John BrownSwimming to Tokyo by Brenda St. John Brown
Published by Spencer Hill on July 28, 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 315
Format: eBook
Source: Gifted
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four-half-stars

The rules for swimming are simple:

Rule #1: There is no lifeguard on duty.

Since her mom died three years ago, nineteen-year-old Zosia Easton’s been treading water. Living at home. Community college. Same old Saturday nights. So when her father breaks the news he’s taken a job transfer—and by the way, it means renting out the house that’s been her refuge—a summer in Tokyo feels like it just might be a chance to start swimming again.

Rule #2: Beware of unexpected currents.

Finn O’Leary has spent God knows how many years trying to drown out his past. Juvenile detention. Bad decisions. Worse choices. He’s managed to turn it around – MIT, Dean’s List, a sexier-than-thou body with a smile to match – at least on the surface. When his mom asks him to spend the summer with her, Tokyo seems as good a place as any to float through the summer.

Rule #3: Swim at your own risk.

What brought me to Swimming to Tokyo was Japan. I was so excited at the prospect of a Japanese love interest. Only, it turns out that assumption was wrong wrong wrong. I’ll be looking elsewhere for that. However, despite that little disappointment, Dahlia (author of Behind the Scenes/Last Will and Testament/Under the Lights) believed so deeply that I would like Swimming to Tokyo that she sent me a Kindle copy for the holidays. Well, damn if the recing ball wasn’t right on target. Swimming to Tokyo is such a funny, swoony Christina book.

New adult fiction and I often don’t get along. The funny thing about Swimming for Tokyo is that it does have the “classic” tropes and format that comprise a lot of new adult novels that I hate. Both Zosia and Finn have tragic pasts, he’s more experienced sexually than she is and a bad boy, and Finn’s constantly trying to leave her for her own good. None of these are necessarily my preferences, and they tend to be so poorly handled in romance novels, because there’s not enough time for all the character building needed to DEAL with those things. Brenda St. John Brown, though, actually makes all of these things work really well.

I knew I’d love this book on the first page when Zosia was complaining about her allergies. I mean, when’s the last time you’ve encountered a fictional person with allergies? She also wipes her nose on her shirt, because she doesn’t have a tissue. She was, from that first, page very real to me. Zosia’s not afraid to be sloppy and, though she’s certainly not exactly like me since she runs, loves math, and hates reading, I loved being in her head. I instaloved all over her narration.

The first thing that really distinguishes Swimming to Tokyo from so much of the new adult I haven’t liked is Zosia. The fact that she has a sense of humor isn’t unique, but her sense of humor is different. A lot of the new adult romances go for a dark, edgy tone, whereas Zosia’s narration makes the novel, even in its darkest moments still not feel depressing or overly angsty. Zosia, though still trying to deal with the death of her mother years before, can still joke about her mom with her grandmother. There are aspects of her mom she doesn’t want to talk about it and it definitely affects her, but she can also remember the good times and appreciate all the wonderful things in her life.

Finn’s more troubled than Zosia is for reasons I don’t want to reveal, as they come out as the book goes along. As such, when the two start flirting in Tokyo, Zosia’s dad initially tries to forbid the relationship. What I love is that he doesn’t become the primary obstacle in the relationship. He’s not thrilled, yes, but that’s because he knows about Finn’s dark past. However, he ultimately loves his daughter and tries to do the best he can by her. He also recognizes that there’s a point where he really can’t affect her decision and just needs to be there to help her if she does get hurt.

The chemistry between Finn and Zosia is just ridiculous. I also just love the dynamic they have as they’re getting to know each other and during the light moments when they’re together. They joke around, but they also very openly address the hard stuff. They acknowledge their trust issues, which doesn’t necessarily solve them, but it does put things out in the open and it encourages them to be even more honest. They do fall in love fairly quickly, over several weeks, but it doesn’t feel at all like instalove, partly because they spend so much time together and partly because they don’t instatrust. I actually think instalove is worse than instalove, and I like that they’ve been separated out here because they so often come in tandem.

The main thing keeping them apart is Finn’s lack of trust, mostly in himself. A trope that Swimming to Tokyo avoids is the one where love heals long-standing psychological issues. Finn isn’t healed by the end of the book, though he’s healing. Zosia certainly helps and she’s a catalyst for change, but he has to do a lot of it himself and it takes time. I also love that Zosia does research on how she should help and what the right things are to say.

Zosia’s also a very nice person. She’s rarely judgmental of others and doesn’t slut-shame in the least. She does get jealous imagining Finn’s exes, but that’s as far as it goes. Ultimately, though, Zosia understands that the past is the past and there’s no point getting upset about it. Sure, in an ideal world, he might have met her earlier and had sex with less people first, but it can’t unhappen, so she doesn’t hold it against him. While he’s much more experienced, he is not the first person Zosia’s ever had sex with and there’s no sense that he’s in control of everything in the sexual arena.

The one thing that I didn’t like so much was a plot point near the end that seemed to add needless drama: View Spoiler ». It’s intended to be the last straw to make Finn have a freak out, but I really don’t think it was needed. Finn was pretty much there and, as I’ve said before, I really prefer for the issues to be internal to the relationship, rather than external. That said, I do think the overall arc of their relationship is really well done and it ends in a good place, where I feel like they have a good chance of lasting for a while but not like they’re necessarily going to be together forever.

Also, I adored the Japanese setting. Though Zosia has minimal interaction with the Japanese, she does a lot of touring and people watching. Once again, I love that she’s not judgmental. I’ve not actually been to Japan, but the scenes line up perfectly with what I’ve seen in jdramas and heard from people who have been to Japan. It seemed to me very respectfully done.

If you’re looking for a sexy new adult novel that actually tackles the issues and has an amazing setting, please allow me to shove this into your hands immediately.

Favorite Quote:

“So if this you, um, asking me on a date?”

“No.” He shoves his hands in his pockets, takes them back out again, and clears his throat. “Can I take you to dinner tomorrow?”

He’s nervous? Finn O’Leary is nervous about asking me out? I’m so taken aback that I blurt out, “You took me to dinner today. Just now.”

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

 gif underwear across the room jenna marbles

2 responses to “Review: Swimming to Tokyo by Brenda St. John Brown”

  1. Ahhh it’s 1.99 on Amazon… might need to splurge on this one. It sounds adorable! I’m always really leery of NA, just because of the awful tropes you were talking about. I’m glad to hear this skips them!
    Kayla @ The Thousand Lives recently posted…Top Ten Books I’d Love for ChristmasMy Profile

  2. Rebecca says:

    This was put on my radar by Dahlia as well! She really is a rec-ing ball machine! I’m not a big fan of NA (but Dahlia’s recs are so awesome, I can’t not explore the dark side) and the tropes they feature, but this one does sounds really great. Must check it out! Fab review 🙂
    Rebecca recently posted…Merry *insert whatever you celebrate* To You & See You In 2015My Profile

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