Review | What’s Left of Me is Yours
Author: Stephanie Scott
Publication Date: April 21, 2020
Source: Personal Collection
A gripping debut set in modern-day Tokyo and inspired by a true crime, for readers of Everything I Never Told You and The Perfect Nanny, What’s Left of Me Is Yours charts a young woman’s search for the truth about her mother’s life–and her murder.
In Japan, a covert industry has grown up around the “wakaresaseya” (literally “breaker-upper”), a person hired by one spouse to seduce the other in order to gain the advantage in divorce proceedings. When Satō hires Kaitarō, a wakaresaseya agent, to have an affair with his wife, Rina, he assumes it will be an easy case. But Satō has never truly understood Rina or her desires and Kaitarō’s job is to do exactly that–until he does it too well. While Rina remains ignorant of the circumstances that brought them together, she and Kaitarō fall in a desperate, singular love, setting in motion a series of violent acts that will forever haunt her daughter’s life.
Told from alternating points of view and across the breathtaking landscapes of Japan, Stephanie Scott exquisitely renders the affair and its intricate repercussions. As Rina’s daughter, Sumiko, fills in the gaps of her mother’s story and her own memory, Scott probes the thorny psychological and moral grounds of the actions we take in the name of love, asking where we draw the line between passion and possession.
I picked up Stephanie Scott’s What’s Left of Me is Yours because I’m part of a postal book club and this title appeared a list of recently released thrillers. What’s Left of Me is Yours is not a thriller, it’s women’s fiction. That’s a huge jump between genres. This has happened to me in the past and I ended up disappointed. I’m delighted to say that What Left of Me is Yours was so well done, that I wouldn’t have been able to make myself feel disappointed if I had wanted to.
What’s Left of Me is Yours, is told in dual-timelines. The past follows Rina in the early 1990s. Rina’s husband has hired a professional relationship breaker-upper (wakaresasya) to have an affair with her to gain an upper hand in future divorce proceedings. In the present readers follow Sumiko, Rina’s Daughter, 20-something years later. After the untimely death of her mother, Sumiko was raised by her maternal grandfather. A mysterious phone call makes her question everything she has been told.
Rina’s and Kaitaro’s story dominates What’s Left of Me is Yours. Their story and its trajectory are swoon-worthy. If anyone had been watching me read their sections I imagine they would have seen my corneas turning into enormous giant hearts. It was just so swoon-worthy. I even forgot that underlying their romance was deception, this deception would normally be a no go for me in books. I can’t gush enough about Rina’s and Kaitaro’s relationship. It was so lovely, so romantic (insert fainting meme).
Added to this great romantic storyline between Rina and Kaitaro there is great character development. As Rina and Kaitaro’s relationship progresses readers get to see them develop as characters. Rina, a once ambitious, creative young woman, breaks free from the cocoon she has encapsulated herself in by following the expectations of her family and society. Kaitaro, a former village boy, now a cynic starts to see life through a new lens and for the first time in a longtime sees a happy future for himself as he reconciles with his past. Kaitaro and Rina had character growth readers love.
The is one major flaw in What’s Left of Me is Yours is its treatment of Sumiko. Sumiko’s storyline follows her trying to find out the truth about her mother. The story takes place in a matter of weeks, but there is not one mention of Sumiko’s personal life, no friends, or romantic interest. Readers can see she has followed in her mother’s footsteps and is following the expectations of her grandfather, but other than that, nothing. Sumiko’s storyline could have been erased from the story, and I don’t think it would have changed anything. Not only was her storyline forgotten, but her character growth seemed to be an afterthought, a few dedicated chapters tacked on to the end for closure. I wish Scott would have taken as much care in crafting Sumiko as she did Rina and Kaitaro.
Now while I loved the plot and character development, my favorite element of What’s Left of Me is Yours is the writing. Stephanie Scott’s writing in this novel leans more to the literary fiction writing style than similar novels. Scott spends a lot of time writing Japan, both culturally and environmentally. As a reader, I would finish sections of this book and wish I could jump on a plane and visit Japan. Japan becomes a character in the novel, leaving a bigger impact on the reader than Sumiko. When Stephanie Scott is not using her writing skills to make readers fall in love with Japan, she is crafting sentences that are making readers, wanting a HEA for Rina and Kaitaro. I don’t think I’ve read a romance novel in a long time that had me rooting so hard for the couple as I was for Rina and Kaitaro. Because really, how could a relationship crafted and written so perfectly go wrong?
What’s Left of Me is Yours could have easily been a five star novel for me but Stephanie Scott and her character, Sumiko, were both victims to one of dual-timelines most common shortcomings: the forgotten character. I see it all the time in books like this, two timeline were one just takes over and the second one is just there hanging out in the shadow on to emerge towards the end. Normally, I’m more upset about this, but all the other elements were so strong that even I almost forgot about Sumiko.
I can’t wait to see what Stephanie Scott comes up with next. She is an author that will be on my list to watch out for.