I Love You So Mochi by Sarah Kuhn (2019)
The first thing I read about this was how it ignored the possibility of a career in fashion, so I need to address this first. It's true. Through much of the book Kimi is basically saying "I need to figure out what I want to do with my life, but all I can think about is designing clothes IF ONLY I COULD UNDERSTAND WHAT MY PASSION IS." I mean, it's ridiculous. I know she's feeling pressure from her mother to be an artist, but it's not like those situations where a parent wants the kid to do something practical and the kid wants to do something creative that is hard to make a living at. Fashion design is probably more practical than painting. So none of this makes sense.
But otherwise it is a very cute and fun story! What hooked me when I first heard about it was just that it was someone going to another country to visit. I love travel and seeing new places, and that's exactly the kind of story I want to experience. And the romance! And the mochi! And the fashion! There are so many great trappings here - just the sensory experiences make this worth reading.
In addition to that though are the family relationships between Kimi and her mom and her grandparents. Kimi and her mom have a huge fight before the trip (it's kind of what spurs her decision to accept the invitation) when her mom shows up to meet her at her Advanced Art class, only to learn that she had dropped the class. It is here that Kimi finally admits she's not really interested in painting anymore. Going to Japan to visit her grandparents is a big deal not just because she's never met them, but because they are pretty estranged from her mom. They talk occasionally, but haven't seen each other since her mother left Japan twenty years ago. It was not a happy parting. So arriving there is a little bit awkward, but I loved seeing her form new relationships with both of her Japanese grandparents. I loved her grandpa's sweet tooth, and her grandmother's own love for fashion design.
Everything about this story was fun and sweet and I kind of already wanted to go to Japan, but now I really, really do.