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Book review: 『ぼくはイエローでホワイトで、ちょっとブルー』by Mikako Brady

Introduction

Title: 『ぼくはイエローでホワイトで、ちょっとブルー』
Subtitle: The Real British Secondary School Days
Author Mikako Brady (ブレイディみかこ)
Published by 新潮社

『ぼくはイエローでホワイトで、ちょっとブルー』is a nonfiction book published in 2019 (only available in soft cover but bigger format than pocket books). It is divided in 16 short chapters (around 15 pages each).

Review

I bought 『ぼくはイエローでホワイトで、ちょっとブルー』because it had amazing reviews on Amazon, it won prizes for nonfiction, and most of all, because I was interested in (what I thought would be) the main topic of the book.

The author is Japanese, she lives in Brighton with her husband (who is Irish) and talks about the first year of middle school of her son in her book. Her son, who is half Japanese half Irish, is going to a school where the majority of students are coming from white working class families.

When I chose this book, I thought it would be mainly about ethnic identity and racism. I was particularly interested in reading about identity from a Japanese point of view in a European country. I was certainly misled by the title that suggests the book will be about these issues. In fact, the English subtitle is much closer to what the book really is than the Japanese main title. 『ぼくはイエローでホワイトで、ちょっとブルー』is really about the real secondary school days in Brighton.

There are of course anecdotes, thoughts and views on ethnic identity, but it only concerns some chapters. In her book, Mikako Brady talks about a lot of other social topics and issues like gender, adoption, bullying, or homelessness. She also explains many things about the educational system in England, how the school of her son functions, social particularities of the neighborhood, and so on.

As a consequence, I was a little disappointed by the book at first, because it was not what I expected. I also did not feel that I was learning a lot of things in this book, French middle schools are not that different from what Mikako Brady describes, so I was not surprised nor did I learn much about particularities of European school system. In the end, I found that Mikako Brady did raise interesting questions and the book was full of promising thoughts about all kinds of social issues, but she did not develop much on each of them. In other words, on the majority of topics, I did not feel that the book allowed me to push my reflections further, get more material to sustain my opinion or, on the contrary, revise it, nor did it allowed me to learn new things or change my point of view. At some point, I started thinking of this book as a beginner’s guide for people who want to start thinking about social issues, which is totally fine and a great purpose for a book, but it was not what I was looking for.

But in spite of all these things, I was and remained engrossed in this book until the end. Each chapter mixes the author’s thoughts and views on a particular topic with anecdotes involving her son or his classmates. I found this structure to work very well, and the book was very pleasant to read. The chapters being short, it was also possible for me to read them in one reading session.

Also, most of the events are told in such a way that they look like little adventures that mother and son embark on together. Most of the events and anecdotes are not special or particular (maybe they are for Japanese readers, but possibly not if you went to a European school yourself), but the way they are told and linked to broader thoughts on social issues make them exciting. Mikako Brady transforms what could be just a typical middle school year into a wonderful adventure that opens a myriad of doors and through which the author and her son grew together.

This book was not quite what I expected, but I enjoyed reading it very much, to the point where I did not want it to stop. It is not as much about being a half-Japanese teenager in England than being a middle school student, or more precisely, being the mother of a middle school student. The “we’re in this together” vibe and the growing bond between mother and son are heart-warming and the book is worth reading for that alone. Recommended!

You can read free chapters of the book on the publisher’s website.

Reading challenge update:

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