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Harmless Like You

A Novel

Rowan Hisayo Buchanan (Author)


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

Written in startlingly beautiful prose, Harmless Like You is set across New York, Connecticut, and Berlin, following Yuki Oyama, a Japanese girl fighting to make it as an artist, and Yuki’s son Jay who, as an adult in the present day, is forced to confront his mother’s abandonment of him when he was only two years old.

The novel opens when Yuki is sixteen and her father is posted back to Japan. Though she and her family have been living as outsiders in New York City, Yuki opts to stay, intoxicated by her friendship with the beautiful aspiring model Odile, the energy of the city, and her desire to become an artist. But when she becomes involved with an older man and the relationship turns destructive, Yuki’s life is unmoored. Harmless Like You is a suspenseful novel about the complexities of identity, art, adolescent friendships, and familial bonds that asks—and ultimately answers—how does a mother desert her son?

Book Details

  • Hardcover
  • February 2017
  • ISBN 978-1-324-00074-7
  • 5.9 × 8.6 in / 320 pages
  • Sales Territory: USA and Dependencies and the Philippines.

Endorsements & Reviews

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

“The kind of novel our century deserves—a brilliantly conceived, beautifully written transnational novel about multiracial identity, motherhood, the struggle to be an artist, and the struggle to belong to your family. This marks the debut of an important new voice in fiction.” — Alexander Chee, author of The Queen of the Night

“Buchanan's prose is lyrical and evocative… [She] reminds us, the ethereal dreams of the 1960s shaped the all-too-solid contours of the world we inhabit today.” — The New York Times Book Review

“Rowan Hisayo Buchanan’s debut is a beautifully textured novel. . . Yuki’s story feels compellingly immediate, as prickly and unpredictable as its protagonist. . . . Her thoughts are brilliantly rendered in sentences that curl up into questions. . . . Through Yuki, the novel probes the complicated politics of victimhood.” — Washington Post

“Buchanan’s prose is visceral, startling and mind-bendingly gorgeous. . . .this is definitely worth reading for the beauty and originality of the prose, for the questions Buchanan raises about art and heritage, and for the characters who are sometimes as maddening as they can be magnificent.” — Boston Globe

“[T]here are so many mature notions of patience, sacrifice, and terrible sadness that it’s startling to realize how young the author of the book is. . . . Buchanan must be, like Yuki herself, an old soul. But unlike Yuki, there is no doubt about how good an artist she is, for this book demonstrates that she is an excellent one.” — Los Angeles Review of Books

“In tracing the stories of Yukiko (or Yuki) and her son, Jay, this debut novel also explores deeper issues of identity. Author Rowan Hisayo Buchanan writes with beauty and sensitivity about what it means to be an artist, a parent, and an outsider in a foreign culture.” — New York Journal of Books

“[Buchanan] find[s] ways of depicting difference, painting characters from numerous races and cultures. . . . Her ways of infusing a character’s culture have more to do with habits and perspective than with pigeonholes, making this the rare debut that does not smack of received knowledge.” — Literary Hub

“[I]ntricate, layered, and complex. . . [Harmless Like You] paints a vivid picture of an unmoored woman whose emotional disquiet led her to become both victim and victimizer. A highly nuanced, understated, and beautifully written debut.” — Kirkus

“Buchanan has a knack for mining the murky depths of what it means to identify as an artist, parent and lover. The journey is sometimes tender, often agonizing—and everything in between.” — Publishers Weekly

“A worthy page-turner for those who appreciate stories focusing on families and relationships.” — Library Journal

“Buchanan’s skill in bringing her characters to life is superb. Yuki joins the growing list of female protagonists who are believable, relatable but not likable. . . . Buchanan interrogates the ways pain is paid forward, how one generation repeats the foibles of another so inexorably that they seem inherited through the genes. She also wants the reader to know that the messes, like so many autosomal recessive disorders, are at least partially fixable. Harmless Like You is a lovely debut.” — BookPage

“In Harmless Like You. . .characters look for ways to reconcile themselves with their histories, though in vastly different and sometimes opposing ways.” — Guardian

“Combines a wry, sardonic voice with an assured knack for comic set-pieces. ” — Times Literary Supplement

“This extraordinary debut novel will leave you in tears.” — Elle Canada

“Harmless is a relentlessly honest book, capturing some of the ugliest and under-represented facets of life, in rich, elegant prose.” — Irish Independent

“Impressive. . . Rowan Hisayo Buchanan [is] a 27-year-old with a very big literary career in front of her. . . . Slick and intelligent. . .it's the subtle brilliance of Buchanan's back-to-front tale that really left me reeling. ” — Stylist

“This elegant and moving novel burns slowly, building in intensity as it develops to explore the subjects of identity, alienation and desire.” — Daily Mail

Harmless Like You is a beautifully written, many-layered novel that, at its core, tells the personal story of a mother and a son — a struggling artist and the child she left behind in pursuit of that art.” — Bustle

“With beautiful descriptions and a tightly woven plot, the characters in this novel are worth spending as much time with as you can.” — Read it Forward

“Written in startlingly beautiful prose. . . Harmless Like You is a suspenseful novel about the complexities of identity, art, adolescent friendships, and familial bonds that asks—and ultimately answers—how does a mother desert her son?” — Review in Colour

“[Buchanan’s] subtle debut novel is carefully constructed with a lightness of touch. The most striking thing about Harmless Like You is the way in which all of the different elements from the dialogue to the tiniest details of character development are all so well measured and balanced against each other.” — A Little Blog of Books

“Elegant, accomplished debut. . . . Although this is a dark novel, it is also as rich and vivid as the chapter headings' descriptions of paint colours.” — Express

“This beautiful novel explores creativity and the complicated relationships between parents and children.” — Psychologies

Harmless Like You is a refreshing, bold book about understatement.” — Sunday Telegraph

“A serious, sad and beautifully written debut.” — South China Morning Post

“A well written, unique and engrossing debut novel . . . a great achievement.” — The Bookbag

“The book has a youthfulness that only a fresh-faced debut novelist can produce.” — Country Life

“Stylishly written . . . exceptional.” — Literary Review

“Shuttling deftly between mother and son, Rowan Hisayo Buchanan's passionate, gorgeously-written debut novel investigates harmlessness and harm, power and vulnerability, free will and fate.” — Ellis Avery

“Harmless Like You is the story of a mother and her son, but it is too an ode to the outsider, a Japanese-American artist who must also create her own, unprecedented identity in 1960s New York. Moving from Manhattan to Berlin, from the Vietnam War to the new millennium, Buchanan's debut explores the thin line between attachment and abandonment, love and pain, selfishness and sacrifice. With kaleidoscopic prose and characters all too human, Harmless Like You is an unforgettable debut, as rich in darkness and light as it is in color.” — Chloe Benjamin

“In Harmless Like You, Rowan Hisayo Buchanan tells the parallel stories of Yuki, a Japanese teenager living on her own in 1960s’ New York, and Jay, her abandoned son who, in the 1980s, questions the family life he’s chosen. With luminous prose, unflinching honesty, and compelling narrative drive, Buchanan examines Yuki and Jay’s respective quests for companionship and safety and meaning, all the while asking, What is home? What does the face of love look like? To what extent should we honor the artistic and creative? Which is more dangerous: loneliness or intimacy? At once harrowing and reassuring, rash and generous, impetuously youthful and imbued with the wisdom that comes with perspective and distance, Harmless Like You is a stunning debut that reads like the work of a seasoned novelist.” — Judith Mitchell

“This is a book I’ve been waiting for since before its author was born. And yet I could never have predicted it. It is a book about beauty and belonging, suffering and being lost, a book that takes into account history, the implications of separation and disorientation. Rowan Hisayo Buchanan cleaves to her idiosyncrasies, foregoing whitewash in favor of her own glittering vision. She is “the seer, not the seen.” The result is a gift—unassuming, elegant, vividly prismatic. Not since Sigrid Nunez’s A Feather on the Breath of God has a book shone such a moving light on multiracial, interracial, and transnational relationships. Regardless of your flesh tone, Rowan Hisayo Buchanan’s study of color—its history, its strangeness, its allure, and its consequences—will dazzle you.” — Jennifer Tseng, poet and author of Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness

“What a beautiful book. So measured and confident for a debut – really impressive stuff. The fine brushwork of a meticulous student of the human condition (and I love the use of all the painting/colour descriptions – so effective) set within the rich, widescreen drama of a bold and visionary storyteller. It's like staring at a stone at the bottom of a very clear, but slowly shifting, lake. An enchanting and deftly layered exploration of desire, self-identity and belonging.” — Jane Unsworth, author of Animals

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