Love-in-TranslationReviewed by Poppy Johnson

Wendy Nelson Tokunaga’s Love in Translation is a novel about discovering how a person’s past does provide meaning and relevance to her future.

The story begins with Celeste Duncan’s quest to find her roots after the death of a close relative. Celeste travels to Japan to live with the Kubota family, in a modified arranged home stay agreement. Although she is much older than a typical exchange student (she’s 33 years old), she is just as inept at adjusting to the local Japanese customs, and routinely finds herself embarrassed and ashamed at her gaffes and faux pas with her host family. Her singing is her saving grace, and she is able to win over her host family, and later many more admirers, with her ability to capture the spirit of what it means to be Japanese – as depicted in the way she sings her songs.

Celeste-san, as her Japanese host mother fondly calls her, is desperately trying to piece together the puzzle of her heritage. As she works diligently to locate her long lost relatives, she is actually hoping to find out who she really is. Her quest leads her to potential real love (with her homestay “brother” Takuya), true friendship (with her wacky Japanese instructor Mariko) and an understanding of her relationship with her disinterested state-side boyfriend (Dirk).

Through learning about the Japanese culture, Celeste learns about her real-life connection to her mysterious past. The book has just enough excitement to keep the reader guessing what will come next. What I enjoyed was that the story was fresh and not a bit predictable. There were several twists and turns, with just enough action to keep me reading.

Love in Translation plays on the theme of a movie by a similar name. It is a book for all ages, and is an appropriate read for teens and adults alike. I’d recommend this book to anyone who wants a good read about a family secret, and a girl determined to find her place in the world no matter the cost.

Please visit Wendy Nelson Tokunaga’s website for more information about her and her books.

Poppy graduated with a JD from the Michael Moritz College of Law. She worked in several NYC law departments before realizing she’d rather be teaching. After a decade of teaching Business Studies courses, she decided she enjoyed writing full-time. She currently works as a freelance writing consultant, managing client content from comedy to marketing, and lives with her husband and sons on the East Coast.