Buy This Time Will Be Different
Regular price: $12.08
Publisher: Harper Teen
Reviewer: Melissa on August 25, 2020
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Back in 2017, I read and absolutely fell in love with Misa Sugiura‘s debut YA novel, It’s Not Like It’s a Secret. So even though I didn’t know much about This Time Will Be Different, other than that it dealt with the internment of Japanese-Americans, I knew I had to read it. Now, having read her sophomore release, I can honestly say that Sugiura is one of my auto-buy authors. While this novel came out, initially, in 2019, it’s paperback release this summer is timely and speaks to a lot of the conversations going on around antiracism in the world and on the news today.
Katsuyamas never quit—but CJ, a 17-year-old teen girl, doesn’t know where to start. She has always felt like she couldn’t live up to her type A mom’s expectations, but she’s perfectly happy helping her aunt, Hannah, at the family’s flower shop, Heart’s Desire. She may not buy into Hannah’s romantic ideas about flowers and their hidden meanings, but CJ discovers that she has a knack for floral arrangement, something she’s proud of. When her mom decides to sell the shop—to the family who swindled CJ’s grandparents during WWII when thousands of Japanese-Americans were sent to internment camps—a rift threatens to split CJ’s family, friends, and their entire Northern California community. Maybe for the first time, CJ has found something worth fighting for.
I’ve read a couple other books that deal with the internment of Japanese-American people. This Time Will Be Different isn’t set directly during the 1940s like both of the other books I’ve read. Instead, it is set in 2019 with repeated sections that take the reader out of the main story to give us asides about the history of the Katsuyama family, CJ’s experience with love, and the larger historical context of racism against Japanese-American people in the US. In many instances, these asides are written with a focus on the basic facts rather than through the lens of an obviously biased narrator. They tell the perspective of the underdog rather than the established history and will, undoubtedly, make you upset about what happened to CJ’s family.
Of course, the events of the past have real consequences for what is happening in CJ’s present. Her mom—who works for the same family who swindled their ancestors—and her aunt—who wants to hold onto the past even if it isn’t a sound business decision, are on opposite sides. When Hannah asks Michelle, CJ’s mom, for more money to keep Heart’s Desire afloat for a few more months, Michelle tells them that McAllister Venture Capital wants to buy the flower shop, once again, and suddenly the lines are drawn. CJ will do anything to help Hannah hold onto the store, even if it means getting herself and her friends involved against her mother’s orders. As the story unfolds, the historical elements are juxtaposed beside events in the present that showcase overt racism against Japanese-Americans, a white saviour trying to swoop in and make the movement all about her, and how the model minority myth affects the way the Japanese-American contingent at CJ’s school views themselves in relation to the white people in the movement and other Asian people in general. By demonstrating how the various aspects of racism play out at CJ’s school, among her friend (and enemy) group, and in the larger community, Misa Sugiura effectively smashes white supremacy in the world of the book and gives readers hope that their own antiracism could be equally effective in their communities and the world at large.
Beyond the strong antiracist themes, This Time Will Be Different has a lighter tone than some other books with the WWII internment camp theme as it follows a romantic comedy structure. Even though CJ has a crush on a white pretty boy named Shane Morgan, she has an embarrassing, for her, and completely hilarious, for readers, meet cute with Owen Takasugi. CJ was running late for work at Heart’s Desire, so when she arrives, she bursts into the back of the shop “with a theatrical sweep of [her] arm, shouting, ‘Fear not! I have arrived at last!'” Only instead of finding Hannah, she comes face to face with a guy who may or may not be an ax murderer. He’s a “vaguely familiar,” Japanese-American guy with “a black T-shirt that reads, ‘HISTORY BUFF: I’d find you more interesting if you were dead,” which calms her down because he probably wouldn’t be advertising his ax murdering ways. Owen happens to be a guy at her school who does the midday video announcements once a week, aka Weekly History Minute, and ever afterward, Hannah and CJ’s BFF, Emily attempt to push CJ toward a relationship with him. With a meet cute like this, it makes perfect sense that Harper Teen called it perfect for fans of Jenny Han, Sandhya Menon, and Morgan Matson. And since I’m also a fan of those authors, I can say without a doubt that Misa Sugiura really hit it out of the park with This Time Will Be Different.
Beyond the internment of Japanese-Americans and how it affects their descendants in the present and the rom com vibe, this book has a whole lot of tension, which Misa Sugiura balances perfectly. There’s the tension between CJ’s mom and aunt, who both live in the same house and put CJ in the middle more than once. Sure, CJ does side more with her aunt’s version of events. However, her interior monologue demonstrates how the way Hannah sometimes leaves out important information from her side of the story is problematic and makes CJ question her loyalties. There’s tension between CJ and her BFF Emily, who suddenly has a crush again on Brynn, the girl who broke her heart in eighth grade. CJ has been trying to play the role of protector to her friend, and she’s sure that Brynn will break Emily’s heart again, but this animosity against Brynn makes Emily not want to tell all her secrets to CJ anymore. There’s tension between CJ and Owen, who is both her coworker and the bisexual guy with a crush on her. Owen is jealous of CJ’s attentions toward Shane, and surprisingly to CJ, she’s jealous of Owen’s attentions to another girl. There’s tension between the members of the student body who along with CJ, Emily, and Owen, are trying to rid their school of its racist namesake when the only white student leader involved tries to take over the movement. Finally, there’s tension throughout the entire community when the students take their proposal to the school board and many of the adults in the community have racist reasons for not wanting to change the school’s name. As you can imagine, the various types of tension build throughout the novel, and keep readers turning the pages as one after another revelation ups the stakes.
There is so much more in This Time Will Be Different that’s funny, heartwarming, and even sometimes, heartbreaking. By engaging with the past, Misa Sugiura demonstrates that when we remember what happened in our history, not only will we not be doomed to repeat it, but also we may learn, like CJ and her friends, that it will never repeat if we don’t let it. Just as Displacement by Kiku Hughes gave me hope for the future, This Time Will Be Different shows that with a little ingenuity young people can change the world of their community and the world as a whole.
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