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

I received this book for free from ALA in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: It’s Not Like It’s a Secret by Misa SugiuraIt's Not Like It's a Secret by Misa Sugiura
Published by HarperTeen on May 9, 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 400
Format: ARC
Source: ALA
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Sixteen-year-old Sana Kiyohara has too many secrets. Some are small, like how it bothers her when her friends don’t invite her to parties. Some are big, like that fact that her father may be having an affair. And then there’s the one that she can barely even admit to herself—the one about how she might have a crush on her best friend.

When Sana and her family move to California she begins to wonder if it’s finally time for some honesty, especially after she meets Jamie Ramirez. Jamie is beautiful and smart and unlike anyone Sana’s ever known. There are just a few problems: Sana’s new friends don’t trust Jamie’s crowd; Jamie’s friends clearly don’t want her around anyway; and a sweet guy named Caleb seems to have more-than-friendly feelings for her. Meanwhile, her dad’s affair is becoming too obvious to ignore anymore.

Sana always figured that the hardest thing would be to tell people that she wants to date a girl, but as she quickly learns, telling the truth is easy… what comes after it, though, is a whole lot more complicated.

DISCLAIMER: I read the ARC version of It’s Not Like It’s a Secret that I got at ALA. My reviews is based solely upon this. It is my understanding that changes were made for the finished copy, but I’m not sure how many or precisely what they would be. Be aware that this commentary is for the ARC alone and some may not apply to the finished version of the book. All quotes are also from the ARC and may have been changed.

Disclaimer aside, I feel pretty comfortable saying that I doubt the changes could have made me like this book all that much more, because the book would have needed a total rewrite from start to finish. It’s Not Like It’s a Secret in the ARC is shockingly problematic and not enjoyable to read on a whole lot of levels.

This book achieved notoriety when a sensitivity reader outed it for problematic Mexican rep on Twitter. Most likely, the Mexican rep has changed a bit, though without completely changing the book, there’s only so much it could have changed. It’s assuredly not good, with the constant implication that Mexicans are lazy and gangsters. A lot of this comes out of Sana’s mom initially, but, as the book goes on and Sana actually gets to know some Mexicans, Sana actually seems to become more racist.

“Aren’t you listening? Teachers don’t assume anything about you. You have to take some responsibility for getting their respect.” There’s a pause just long enough for me to realize I’ve said something wrong.

“Um, actually . . .” says Jamie slowly, “actually, they do assume things about you.”

“No, they don’t.”

“What do you know, Asian girl?” says Christina. “We have it way harder than people like you.”

“That’s not true. I work hard. Everyone has to work hard.”

Christina scoffs. “Some Asian nerd-boy misses a few assignments, and the teacher’s all, why aren’t you doing your homework, is everything okay at home, here’s a chance to make it up. A Mexican kid don’t do his homework, and that’s that. The teacher doesn’t say shit. Just lets him fail.”

“Maybe that’s because so many Mexican kids don’t do their homework.” Oh, no. I can’t believe that just came out of my mouth. It’s true, though. She can’t deny it. Besides, Jamie said not to take any shit from her.

“Oh, now you got a Mexican girlfriend so you know all about Mexican kids. How do you know we don’t do our homework?”

“Well, I don’t see how you could get bad grades if you were working hard,” I say. I’m keenly aware that I’m screwing up, and scared of where this argument is going, but I don’t know how to fix it, and it’s too late anyway.

At one point, roughly 60% in, Sana goes off on Jamie’s friends, all Mexican, about how, if Mexican students are treated differently by teachers, it’s because they all (except Jamie) live down to the stereotypes. She’s told off a bit by Christina, who explains some other factors, like having to hold down full time employment on top of attending school. Sana continues to be a shit about it, and Jamie ends up mostly accepting everything Sana’s said, because Christina called Sana a nerd which is also racist. This scene was most likely cut but holy shit. I could not believe it was happening.

Setting this aside, fixing the Mexican rep, by an intense overhaul of the whole book, all of the rep struck me as pretty damn awful. Basically every single person in this book is very overtly racist. Most obviously Sana’s mother, who is constantly spouting racist assertions based on stereotypes (while herself being very much a stereotype). Sana herself often mentions feeling more white than Asian, which is weird, and there are endless Asian stereotypes. Her dad’s affair seems like a needless distraction from her character arc otherwise, and the family’s friendly acceptance of his mistress and Sana’s sexuality at the end are completely unbelievable with all of their other characterization.

After scrutinizing Arturo’s license, Officer Barlowe returns it with a glare. Then he sniffs the air, to check if we’ve been smoking, I guess. Not getting anything, he looks around at us again, and this time his gaze lights on me. “Well, look at this— one of these things is not like the others. What’s your name, young lady?”

“You gonna get yourself a new girlfriend? And a better crowd to hang out with?” What am I going to say—No? And openly defy a police officer? But I can’t exactly say yes in front of Jamie and everyone, can I? I look at my feet while the gears spin wildly in my head.

Finally, Officer Barlowe rescues me. “Ah, you don’t need to answer, I’m just givin’ you a hard time. Making sure you’re more careful in the future. Making sure all of you are more careful in the future.” He looks hard at JJ, Arturo, Christina, and Jamie.

I get that everyone is racist because that’s the point of the book: no matter one’s race, racism is entrenched in society, and we need to watch for it. However, given the setting in California, I wasn’t expecting so much outright, in your face racism, rather than microaggressions. To be clear, I’m aware that racism is everywhere, even liberal strongholds, but it’s just so much. Everyone in the cast is hateful, and it’s really just awful to read, especially when there wasn’t a really powerful character arc attached. Sana learned a little bit about racism, but not enough for how this book is.

On top of that, the romance is awful. Sana first spots Jamie where she’s working at Bed, Bath & Beyond. Then, when Sana sees that she runs cross country, Sana signs up, even though she’s not interested in running. This is before they’ve had an actual conversation. They seem to have nothing in common, but they both instalove on each other anyway. Sana absolutely loathes all of Jamie’s friends and wishes she were friends with Mexicans who are more like Sana.

As I look at Arturo and JJ in their jeans and black hoodies, and Christina in her fake-torn jeans, lacy top, and heavy Cleopatra eye makeup, I feel like a tourist in my Anderson cross-country shirt, with Jamie as my guide—dressed like me in her Anderson cross-country shirt so that I can find her in a crowd. I listen to their wide-open vowels, their l’s light on their tongues— faintly Spanish-tinged accents even though they were all born and raised here. Christina makes it worse by sprinkling Spanish phrases into her speech, like she’s trying to keep me out.

And I’m not about to go dropping double negatives like them, and start swearing and . . . and shit. See? It’s not natural. I wish Jamie was friends with Luisa Campos, this shy, sweet girl in my PE class, or Eddie Echevarria, who sits behind me in psychology and who’s in marching band. They seem more like me.

It’s almost like being back in Wisconsin when I couldn’t find my way into the Midwest Farmers’ Daughters’ Club. But at least there, we all sounded the same. We wore the same clothes. At least we all identified with the same tribe—or tried to, anyway.

Further complications ensue after Jamie’s hot, slutty (seriously, the fact that white girls are slutty comes up multiple times and is never worked against), white ex kisses her and she kisses back briefly. Meanwhile, Sana’s Asian friends try to convince her to break up with Jamie and try dating boys. They’re convinced she’ll love kissing boys if she kisses the right boy, aka Caleb, Sana’s goth friend.

“Please, Sana, just try!” begs Elaine. “I mean, what if you’re straight—or bi—and you just got a bad one that time? I mean, how do you know you only like girls?”

“How do you know that you only like guys?”

Elaine rolls her eyes. “Okay, fine. But I like the guy I’m with, right? So maybe you just haven’t met the right one.”

“I have met the right one, and she’s a girl. She’s who I’m with. That’s my point. And what ever happened to you being totally cool with me being gay? What happened to being happy for me?”

“I am cool with it. But she’s cheating on you, Sana. We saw her. You deserve to be with someone who knows they want to be with you. And Caleb’s so nice—you even said. You’d be such a great couple. I bet he wouldn’t cheat on you. And I’ve seen you flirting with him in trig, and you’re so cute together.”

“I don’t recall ever saying he was nice. And I definitely haven’t been flirting with him.”

At this, Hanh snorts and Reggie lets out a loud “ha!”

“What? I haven’t!” Have I?

“Whatever. But you do think he’s nice, right?”

“Well, yeah, but—”

“Come on. He’s totally asking you out right now. Just go out with him. Just once. What do you have to lose?”

“Uh, Jamie?”

Elaine heaves a melodramatic sigh. “If it turns out Jamie’s cheating on you, then. Then you’ll try. Because it’s not cheating if she’s cheating, too.” I’m not even sure she cares about Caleb or me or gay or straight anymore—she just wants to win. She’s not a tiny, adorable little kitten, like Reggie says. She’s a tiny, adorable little pit bull and she’s clearly not going to let go until I give in.

“Fine. If it turns out Jamie’s cheating, which she’s not—and Caleb tries to kiss me, which he won’t—I will try it. Jeez. Are you happy?” Everyone cheers wildly, and Elaine actually throws her arms around me.

“You’re going to love it!” she says, squeezing me tight.

And, yes, she stays friends with these girls. Obviously, Sana thinks Jamie’s cheating, and so she cheats. It takes a long time for her to admit that she did anything wrong whatsoever to Jamie. She feels worse about toying with Caleb’s feelings than she does about cheating on Jamie. They end up together, despite being unhealthy in every possible way, because Sana performs a grand gesture and wins Jamie back. I unship with all the ferocity within me. Like, I know I’ve been complaining about the quality of YA f/f, but this makes all the rest look better by comparison.

There’s so much more I could have included here, and I know I went heavy on the ARC quotes, which again may not be in the final version. However, I hated absolutely everything about this book and how the story went, so I really doubt it can have been improved enough for me to like it.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:


One response to “Review: It’s Not Like It’s a Secret by Misa Sugiura”

  1. Pamela says:

    Thank you for this review! I read the book as well but I wasn’t sure how to articulate what I felt. While I was glad there was a diverse relationship portrayed, it felt totally fake. They just happen to see each other and happen to fall in love with each other? Okay. But the racism in the book (and like you, I only had an ARC, and my current library is pretty small, so we probably won’t buy the book because: budget) was off the charts. I get that the author was trying to do one of those “main character is racist but overcomes it” but … I don’t think Sana did!

    Plus, the whole *arrangement* with her dad and mom and his mistress is very odd and was tacked on.

    Spot-on review!

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