Kiko Himura is fighting to get out: of herself, her home, her mundane life. She is besieged by her narcissistic, domineering mother, by her anxieties, her mixed heritage and her abusive uncle. Her lifeline is her art, which she hopes will get her into Prism, the prestigious New York art school. When her application fails and Jamie, a dear childhood friend comes back into her life and invites her to stay with him at his parents’ house in California to investigate art schools there, she jumps at the chance. Her uncle’s return to the family home and her mother’s refusal to acknowledge his abuse of her cements the deal.
Once she is in California, events slot into place like an oiled jigsaw: Hiroshi Matsumoto, a famous artist, sees the potential in Kiko’s work and gives her working space in his studio, where he tutors her. His wife offers her a job in the café which she and her daughter run. Kiko and Jamie fall in love-and this accumulation of fortuitous events strains the veracity of the narrative. In Bowman’s defence, these bright stars are clouded by the reality of Kiko’s panic attacks, her inability to believe in herself and her struggle to find her place, ethnically, in the world.
These issues all generate reader sympathy but they are dealt with at rather too much length. Kiko’s every panic attack or moment of anxiety is minutely described, sometimes resulting in a repetitive experience for the reader. In addition, her mother edges too close to caricature in her behaviour towards Kiko and her overweening self-absorption. Bowman is to be commended on her courage in tackling a range of important topics but when loose ends are too neatly tied at the end of the book this dilutes their impact.