by Alice J. Wisler
Book Description (Back Cover):
His words have unlocked a special place in her heart, but he lives in the one place she vowed she'd never return... Nicole Michelin avoids airplanes, motorcycles, and most of all, Japan, where her parents once were missionaries. Something happened in Japan. Something that sent Nicole and her father back to America alone. Something of which Nicole knows only bits and pieces. But she is content with life in little Mount Olive, North Carolina, with her quirky relatives, tank of lively fish, and plenty of homemade pineapple chutney.
Through her online column for the Pretty Fishy website, Nicole meets Harrison Michaels, who, much to her dismay, lives in Japan. She attempts to avoid him, but his e-mails tug at her heart.
Then Harrison reveals that he knew her as a child in Japan. In fact, he knows more about her childhood than she does! Will Nicole face her fears in order to discover her past and take a chance on love?
Set in 1999, Alice J. Wisler’s debut novel is interesting from a cultural standpoint. It really helps illustrate the huge changes to daily life that the Internet has brought in the past ten years by highlighting e-mail communication at the beginning of the digital revolution. Nicole is the only person in her extended family who owns a computer, let alone using e-mail – to someone like myself, who grew up in Silicon Valley, this seems utterly inconceivable. EVERYONE I know has a computer. Not just a family computer, too; everyone I know has his or her OWN computer. Yet as recently as a decade ago, computers were not ubiquitous. At one point in the book, Nicole mentions Y2K as this scary thing, and it cracked me up because looking back didn’t that just turn out to be an overhyped pile of ridiculous?
Nicole is an odd narrator. She’s full of quirks and weird little thoughts. Every once in a while, she’ll blame some character flaw or personality problem on the fact that she grew up without a mother; realistic, yes, but whiny. When Harrison and she begin their e-mail correspondence, she just fixates on him obsessively. I can understand this; I, too, in 1998 had a person that I messaged quite frequently and literally checked my inbox hourly to see if he’d responded.
Of course, I was also 13. Nicole is in her thirties.
Her naiveté about the Internet – she takes Harrison at face value, and the book never mentions her checking up on his background or “Googling” him (possibly because Google was barely launched in 1999) – seems laughable now, but I remember this as a fairly accurate reflection of the time.
My copy of Rain Song is an Advance Reading Copy, so some changes may have been made. But one random thing I noticed that bugged me is that Nicole’s niece Monet is a huge Dora the Explorer fan. In 1999. According to Wiki and IMDB.com, Dora didn’t launch as a full television series until 2000…in 1999, there was only a pilot episode, and I’m not sure how widespread the distribution was but this seems like a screw-up in chronology.
I found Rain Song to be a pleasant read, but predictable. The ending is very abrupt and random. There are a lot of plot threads that are left not quite resolved, and I feel an extra chapter or two would have vastly improved the reading experience. But like I said, I do think the book does an excellent job capturing the attitudes toward e-mail and the Internet that many people had back when it began to move into the mainstream, especially the older folks who did not grow up with computers and had a more difficult time with the transition than those of us who grew up with it. As picky as I am in this review, I did enjoy the reading, especially the interactions between Nicole's family members.