Fallen Sakura

Title & buy link: Fallen Sakura
Author: April Moone
Cover Artist: Anne Cain
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Amazon: Buy Link Fallen Sakura
Genre: M/M contemporary
Length: Novel (210 pages)
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

A guest review by Leslie S

Review summary: Successful as a genre-specific shounen-ai story, but less successful as a read for non-BL readers.

Manga artist Kobayashi Haru blushes easily and falls in love even more so. When he meets the aloof Sakurai Aki, he tries to convince himself he’s only interested in friendship. But the more he sees of his new friend, the more he’s drawn to the cool beauty. Only Haru’s shy manner and firm belief that Sakurai is straight keep him from showing his real feelings.

Everything changes the moment Sakurai offers to sleep with Haru. Haru has reservations, but he’s falling for Sakurai, and it’s impossible to say no. Despite Sakurai’s private nature, their relationship blossoms and seems perfect—until Haru learns Sakurai’s secret. Furious and hurt at being used, Haru cuts Sakurai out of his life. If only it were so easy to cut him out of his heart.

Manga artist Haru is sitting watching the cherry blossoms by the river and grieving for his mother when he meets Aki, who’s also come to the river for a bit of peace and quiet. Aki seems like the strong, silent type, and Haru is smitten—although it appears that Aki is too wrapped up in his own concerns to be thinking of romance. They exchange numbers, and Haru, who is recently out of an abusive relationship, pursues Aki with phone calls until Aki agrees to meet him.

Though Aki appears stand-offish and cold, he seems interested in Haru and yet he doesn’t take advantage of Haru’s puppy-like eagerness. Haru falls in love almost straight away and does all the running, convinced that Aki is the guy for him. His best friend and fellow artist, Jeff, an American married to a Japanese woman, is at first pleased but becomes increasingly concerned with the hold that Aki appears to have over Haru. Aki’s mysteriousness, which is such a turn-on and a challenge for Haru, to Jeff seems to suggest something more sinister. Jeff is worried that Haru might be setting himself up for another fall.

Then Aki starts to let Haru in, and they become lovers. Haru is ecstatic. Not even the reappearance of his abusive ex-boyfriend is enough to ruin his happiness—until Jeff uncovers some information about Aki and tells Haru the truth about his seemingly perfect boyfriend…

Fallen Sakura is marketed as a yaoi book, but to me that’s a little misleading. There’s not enough sex in it to justify the yaoi tag; instead, this is more like shounen-ai, the less hardcore, more romantic genre of BL (boys’ love).

The story is told in first person from Haru’s POV. I liked Haru—he’s a bit daft and relentlessly chirpy, which would usually irritate me but it worked within the parameters of the book. He makes quite a lot of assumptions and sometimes comes across as a bit too naive, but in that respect he’s the stereotypical uke (bottom) character. You can almost see the flowers in the panel around his head and the stars shining in his eyes.

Aki is less successful as a character and I didn’t feel a connection to him. Most of this is again due to genre constraints, in which the seme (top) is always tough and mysterious and gives away very little in terms of emotion or conversation. I felt Haru’s yearning for him, but since Aki is so closed off, there’s not much to hang on him in terms of personality.

Jeff, on the other hand, really came alive for me, and he was my favourite character. Loud and exuberant and willing to (knowingly but still respectfully) cross cultural boundaries in order to cheer Haru up or to protect him, Jeff is the perfect foil for both Haru and Aki. He’s a great ‘straight best friend’ character and I enjoyed his appearances in the book, not least because he always presented a different interpretation on Haru’s more socially rigid perceptions.

In general this is what I’d call a ‘quiet’ book, because nothing really happens. There’s not a lot of external drama; it’s all internal and it’s more of an emotional journey. It’s quite compelling in a way because of the limited first person POV, and because Haru feels so much. If he was a less likeable character, this story wouldn’t work at all because he’d come off as too self-obsessed, but the author struck the right note between vulnerability and navel-gazing, and Haru’s chirpiness saves him from wallowing in angst.

However, there is a Big Misunderstanding, which mainly comes about because of Haru making certain assumptions and Aki not talking about a situation. This is par for the course in the BL genre but I found it a bit too much, and when the Big Reveal about Aki came, I sort of made a face at my Kindle and went “Really? That’s it?” I was honestly expecting something more shocking than what was actually revealed, so I did find that aspect of the story somewhat disappointing.

As a BL/shounen-ai story, it hits all the marks, so readers who enjoy that specific genre will find much to like here. To the general reader, however, the utilisation of tropes and character archetypes may seem too contrived and the plot too flimsy. But overall, this is a nice enough read that fits genre conventions without challenging them.