Rowan Hisayo Buchanan starts her novel with an intriguing meeting between mother and son. It is quite obvious that they have not met in a long long time. Buchanan continues with the life stories of mother Yuki and son Jay, told in alternating chapters. As a result the reader is taken along to the moment mother and son meet again from a vantage point in Yuki’s life. At first I felt Yuki to be your standard troubled teenager. It became quite clear however that her problems seriously exceeded standard issues. Having non-communicative parents and having to grow up in a strange town in a strange country does not help her tendency to depression and self-destruction. Her low self-image causes her to continually doubt herself and the world she has to live in. A doting husband and an adorable husband cannot make the difference. Yuki leaves them and choses to dedicate herself to getting well and making art. We meet son Jay a few days after he has become a father. He looks back at his motherless youth and worries whether he is cut out to be a good father. He realizes that he lacks the usual fierce feelings of fathers for their newborn. His own dad cannot show him the way, he died in a fatal accident on his way to see his granddaucgther for the first time. Jay’s loss and the knowledge that he has to go in search of his mother dominate his chapters. He comes over as a nice guy, one who loves his cat more than his daughter though.
Towards the end of the novel Yuki and Jay are finally reunited. The novel does tend to the cliché from that moment on. Of course Jay forgives his mother for leaving him as a child. of course on receiving the news that his young daughter has been rushed to hospital he realizes just how much he loves her, of course mother and son spend some beautiful days together. Almost casual remarks, “I just realized my mother was just shy’, that keep Buchanan from straying too far. It does help that Jay and Yuki are quite alike: neither one of them is a natural as far as coping with emotions goes. The structure with alternating chapters is not new and neither is the introduction of each Yuki-chapter with the description of a colour. They do work. Buchanan furthermore manages to describe her characters with precise detail combining this with an at times poetic style of writing: “I had dark days, blue moons and a golden hour or two.”. Harmless Like You is not a perfect novel, it does take you along perfectly agreeable in the lives of two imperfect people.