Book Review: Swimming to Tokyo by Brenda St. John Brown

Posted January 14, 2015 by Stormy in Books / 7 Comments

Swimming to Tokyo

by Brenda St. John Brown

Swimming to Tokyo

Original Publication Date: July 28, 2014
Length: 235 pages
Obtained Via: Bought
Publisher: Spencer Hill Contemporary

View at the Traffic light:


the story morning glory


The rules for swimming are simple:

Rule #1: There is no lifeguard on duty.

Since her mom died three years ago, nineteen-year-old Zosia Easton’s been treading water. Living at home. Community college. Same old Saturday nights. So when her father breaks the news he’s taken a job transfer—and by the way, it means renting out the house that’s been her refuge—a summer in Tokyo feels like it just might be a chance to start swimming again.

Rule #2: Beware of unexpected currents.

Finn O’Leary has spent God knows how many years trying to drown out his past. Juvenile detention. Bad decisions. Worse choices. He’s managed to turn it around – MIT, Dean’s List, a sexier-than-thou body with a smile to match – at least on the surface. When his mom asks him to spend the summer with her, Tokyo seems as good a place as any to float through the summer.

Rule #3: Swim at your own risk.


New Adult, as a category, continues to overwhelm me. The vast focus of new adult books show experiences so unlike my own being a “new” adult that it’s hard for me to overlook the exaggeration of what I’ve found to be real life. I want to like new adult so badly–but I also want to see those new adults struggle with bills, have trouble finding jobs, and wondering what they’re going to do after college while still getting caught up in the moment. However, I wanted to give this category of books more of a chance than I have so far. I’ve seen only positive reviews for Swimming to Tokyo, and the setting intrigued me enough that I decided this would be my plunge into NA.

And. . . I sadly did not get swept away. Swimming to Tokyo was an enjoyable enough read, but I found myself having to look up the book on Goodreads just to remember the characters’ names when I sat down to write this review–one day after reading.

The gist of the story is fairly simple. Zoe’s father gets a job in Tokyo, and the she spends the summer before leaving for college with her father in Tokyo. While there, she realizes that a boy she knew back home and had a crush on in high school is also there with his mom, who works for the same bank as Zoe’s dad. Because he’s a lead in a NA, he has a bit of a tortured past. They begin a friendship that turns into something more.

I wasn’t expecting a super original tale from Swimming to Tokyo, and I have no problems with the basic premise of the book. However, I was expecting some more. . . spark. sizzle. pizazz. And not just in the romance department(though that would have been nice too). Everything in Swimming to Tokyo just felt so. . . by-the-book. Not just the plot, but also the writing and the characters. I like my characters to have layers, and while Zoe and Finn weren’t one dimensional, they did lack a certain depth I would have liked to see.
Unfortunately, the biggest disappointment for me in Swimming to Tokyo was the romance, which is a bit of a problem when a book is centered around the romantic entanglements of the main characters. I didn’t hate the romance, but I didn’t ever really feel the chemistry between Zoe and Finn. In fact, I liked their scenes together better before their families left for Tokyo–those few scenes were endearing but somehow when the setting shifted, the romance felt more connected-by-the-numbers rather than because of any real spark.

Despite my issues above, I actually did enjoy Swimming to Tokyo. While Finn definitely has a troubled past and there was angst, it was less of a drama-filled angst-filled than I expected based on my (admittedly limited) experience with NA. I loved how the setting of Tokyo was actually utilized, and the scenes with Finn and Zoe exploring the city were my favorite part of the book. And, though I may not have been gung-ho over the romance, I have to admit it made me smile a few times.



While Swimming to Tokyo was not a home run for my experiment with NA, it was a good read for what it was. I wish I had believed in the romance more, as I think that would had sold me on this one. Even so, I’m glad I gave Swimming to Tokyo a chance. 3/5 cupcakes.




3 Stars

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7 responses to “Book Review: Swimming to Tokyo by Brenda St. John Brown

  1. “but I also want to see those new adults struggle with bills, have trouble finding jobs, and wondering what they’re going to do after college while still getting caught up in the moment.” This! This is what NA should have as well and what I feel that’s been missing. I want more books that take palce after college or university and that dreadfull stage were you’re looking for a job and strugglign with interviews.

    On another note I did enjoy this book and like you thought the Tokyo setting was utilized, I once read a book that took place in Australia and nothing was done with the setting. The exploring the city scenes were some of my favourites as well!

    • Stormy

      That’s the line that everyone seems to agree with in this review! I need all that “what am I doing with my life” moments that are so frequent in MY life but never seem to be a problem in the lives of characters of NA.

  2. Maraia

    I totally agree that it’s hard to relate to these supposed “new adults.” From the few I’ve read or DNF-ed, the genre basically seems to be an excuse to write books with young characters how have lots of sex and are shallow. Which is fine, if that’s what you’re looking for, but I would appreciate a bit more substance. Obviously I’m judging an entire genre based on only a handful of books (as well as the Goodreads summaries of many more), and I’m sure there’s more to NA than that, but so far I haven’t been impressed.

    • Stormy

      Right, so much of NA could just as easily be marketed as romance with a college setting. And that’s totally cool, but it’s not really what I had hoped NA would be. I liked this book, and I also loved the upcoming When Joss Met Matt, which is the only NA that really felt like what I *wanted* NA to be.

  3. I have been curious about reading this book so thanks for the review! Now I know it still may be worth reading but not to get my hopes up 🙂

    • Stormy

      Yup, it wasn’t a bad way to spend an afternoon and definitely had its highlights, but I didn’t find it TOO spectacular. The setting was fun, though.

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