Browse Reading Guides


Reading Group Guide

  1. Book ImageHarmless Like You: A Novel

    Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

    “This brilliant debut novel by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan is cause for celebration.”—Lorrie Moore

Discussion Questions

  1. Yuki and her family are outsiders in America. As a teenager, Yuki is embarrassed by this, so why is Odile’s outsider status so intoxicating to Yuki? How is it different from her own?
  2. Would you say Yuki in some way passes down her feelings of displacement and alienation to her son Jay, who suffers from the same?
  3. The author writes New York City as practically its own character in the book. Yuki is as fascinated by the city as she might be by a living person. How does this fascination affect her decision making?
  4. Yuki and Odile have very different reactions to Lou’s abuse of Lillian. How does witnessing this affect both of them as they first become adults, and even years later?
  5. What do you think Yuki’s parents expected her to gain from staying in the United States without them? Do you think Yuki was hurt by what she perceived as the ease with which they left? Do you think this ultimately changes Yuki’s relationship to her own child?
  6. Yuki is often a bystander in her own life. However, she intentionally pursues Lou. What is it about Lou that Yuki finds so compelling? What might her attraction to him have to do with her feelings about Odile and Lillian?
  7. What do you think drew Edison to Yuki in the first place? Do you think he could have predicted how things would turn out?
  8. Jay suffers from anxiety after being abandoned by his mother, despite the love and dedication he received from Edison. How does this affect Jay’s relationship to his own wife and daughter?
  9. How is Jay’s New York City different from Yuki’s? How is his art world different from his mother’s? What does Berlin offer Yuki that New York City did not?
  10. Yuki long felt shut out of the art world because of lack of access, experience, money, and, finally, time, once she becomes a mother. Do you think, by moving to Berlin, she gained the life she wanted?
  11. What forms Jay’s decision to cheat on his wife? Is he trapped, bored, or just acting impulsively? How does his reconciliation with his mother inform his decision to keep his family together?
  12. What would you say is the feeling that Yuki and Jay are left with after their time together in Berlin? Has a kind of peace and reconciliation been achieved?

About Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

Rowan Hisayo Buchanan received a BA from Columbia University, an MFA from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and the Asian American Writers’ Workshop Margins Fellowship.

Books by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

  1. Book CoverHarmless Like You: A Novel

    “This brilliant debut novel by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan is cause for celebration.”—Lorrie MooreMore