Sparked

Release date: October 2017

If You Follow Me

Hoping to outpace her grief in the wake of her father’s suicide, Marina, a recent college graduate, has come to the small, rural Japanese town of Shika to teach English for a year. But in Japan, as she soon discovers, you can never really throw away your past... or anything else, for that matter.

Alive with vibrant and unforgettable characters—from an ambitious town matchmaker to a high school student rap artist wannabe with an addiction to self-tanning lotion—it guides readers over cultural bridges even as it celebrates the awkward, unlikely triumph of the human spirit.

If You Follow Me is at once a coming-of-age, fish-out-of-water tale, a dark comedy of manners, and a strange kind of love story. It won a Michener-Copernicus award, and sections have been awarded a Glimmertrain Fiction Open award and runner-up in the Faulkner/Pirate’s Alley Contest.

 

The Author: Malena Watrous

Malena Watrous grew up in the Sunset district of San Francisco, before her family moved to Eugene, Oregon. Eager to get out of the rain and back to a big city, she attended Barnard College, where she majored in English and spent her free time interning for a food writer. After graduation, Malena worked as a coat check, kindergarten teacher’s assistant, and restaurant critic for Time Out New York, all of which prepared her to teach English in Japan. She was placed by the Jet Program in Shika-Machi, the nuclear power plant town in which she set her debut novel, If You Follow Me.

After two years in the rice paddies of rural Japan, Malena moved straight to the cornfields of Iowa, where she attended the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop on a Truman Capote Fellowship. In 2002, she was the recipient of a Wallace Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University, followed by a Jones Lectureship. She now works for Stanford as a head instructor in the Online Writer’s Workshop.

Malena’s stories and essays have appeared in The Alaska Quarterly Review, The Believer, GlimmerTrain, The Massachussetts Review, Salon.com, StoryQuarterly, TriQuarterly, and elsewhere. She contributes regular book reviews to the San Francisco Chronicle and the New York Times. Harper Perennial will publish her first novel, If You Follow Me, in March 2010. The manuscript won the Michener-Copernicus Award, and the first section of the novel was runner-up in the Pirate’s Alley/Faulkner contest. Having come full circle, Malena once again lives in San Francisco, with her husband, Matt Schumaker, their son Max, and two cranky cats. Her most recent novel is Sparked.


Reviews

“Japan seems to be a particularly difficult place to sort yourself out if you are a sensitive, rules-averse American woman with a flexible sexuality and a penchant for getting into trouble, like the narrator of Malena Watrous’s smart, comic first novel, IF YOU FOLLOW ME. But fortunately for the rest of us, calamity borne with a good sense of humor often turns into a great story.”

— New York Times

"I recently read an advance copy of a first novel that’s fantastic: “If You Follow Me” by Malena Watrous. It’s about a young American woman who goes to teach for a year in rural Japan, and it’s incredibly funny and awkward and real — it’s my favorite kind of fiction because it keeps you in the moment with the main character, sharing all her hilariously excruciating experiences."

- Curtis Sittenfeld

 

“IF YOU FOLLOW ME is a good antidote to books like Eat, Pray, Love. Sure, it’s also about an American girl who finds self-knowledge and solace abroad—but Watrous’s novel is no self-indulgent romp. She writes real, flawed human beings in genuine relationships stumbling toward the adorably quirky on one side or the broodingly obscure on the other.”

— The Rumpus