Rowan Hisayo Buchanan, whose mother is Japanese-Chinese-American and whose father is British, described in a recent Guardian interview how her own dual citizenship informed the rootlessness at the heart of her debut novel: ‘On the good days, I feel like I have many homes. On the bad days I feel I have no home.’ Harmless Like You follows the parallel narratives of Yuki Oyama, a Japanese teenager growing up in New York in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and of her abandoned son, Jay, travelling in the present day to find Yuki in Berlin after the death of his father. Yuki’s story is the more substantially and lovingly rendered of the two, although Jay’s portrayal gains some intimacy and depth in the book’s closing quarter.
When Yuki’s parents decide to return to Japan, she asks their permission to remain in New York without them. Yuki is near school-leaving age and plans to go to an American university; her parents reluctantly accept that New York is more of a home for her now than Japan.