A lot of people think of Paris as the “city of love.” But to me, that title will always belong to San Francisco. While its European sibling is often portrayed with dramatic swells of music and sparkling lights on the river, a type of idealism that has been played to the point of satire, San Francisco encaptures a love that is free from restraints and preconceived notions of the romantic tradition. It’s been the messy heart of Beat poets and writers, a witness to the painful struggle of immigrant narratives, and home to innovative thought and creation.
I’ve seen hundreds flock to this city for love. The city has long been home to immigrant communities, many hoping to build a loving family—my parents included. Some move to the city after graduation, chasing passions and dreams. Others travel across the country for the freedom to love their partner, finding comfort and safety in a path paved by San Francisco’s LGBTQIA+ community and the historic Castro district. In Misa Sugiura’s Love & Other Natural Disasters, 17-year old Nozomi Nagai is also seeking love in San Francisco.
Despite its title, this young adult romantic-comedy portrayal of love is not so much of a disaster as it is an unraveling of complications and acceptance of others. Sugiura’s first-person narrative puts us in the mind of Nozomi, a queer Japanese-American teenager who struggles to recognize love outside of her picture-perfect ideals.
When Nozomi arrives in the summer to intern for her uncle Stephen’s art gallery, she is already dreaming of a perfect relationship. Despite a rough start at work and bickering with fellow Japanese-American intern Dela, Nozomi falls head-over-heels for Willow. But Willow, on her end, is still mourning her relationship with the beautiful, Black, “It Girl” Arden. This is where things get complicated. While Arden had broken up with Willow to date Dela, no one in this love quadrangle really seems to be over each other.
Nozomi finds herself pulled in two directions: toward the dreamy Willow who is described as “teenage Gemma Chan,” and the angst-ridden Dela (who I imagine looks like Go Go Tamago). At the same time, she struggles to navigate her family’s love which weaves between her parents’ messy divorce, her mother’s affair, and an understanding of her uncle Stephen’s proud gay identity alongside his enduring care for their elderly, homophobic grandmother.
Love & Other Natural Disasters leans heavily into the tropes of “fake dating” and “enemies to lovers,” but it also avoids cliched portrayals of teenage love and Asian American families. Sugiura only briefly dives into the issue of race with Arden’s claim that, without her “It Girl” style and makeup, Willow wouldn’t have dated her as a Black woman—a throwaway line that raised eyebrows and I wished had more discussion and context to dive deeper into.
I breezed through the novel in two-and-a-half hours and, while Sugiura covers a lot of ground with ideas of family, race, queerness, and death, Love & Other Natural Disasters does not dig deeply as it could have into all the conversations it raises.
Although I share the same name as Nozomi’s first heartbreak, being stuck in quarantine for the last year has made me a bit more of a romantic than the briefly mentioned Helena in Love and Other Natural Disasters. Simply put, I miss the San Francisco places and sites that Sugiura notes. I miss Cinderella Bakery, Tartine, and our city’s dearly-missed Cliff House. (Yes, I’m aware these are all food spots and I’m exposing myself as a full-time foodie.) Sometimes, living in the area, it’s easy to forget how these places can be romanticized and Sugiura certainly brings a heavy dose of rosy hues.
But beyond the sticky sweet romanticism and angst-filled love triangles, was Sugiura’s gentle rendering of family. Although Nozomi’s perspective is often frustrating and single-minded, her family helps us to understand a broader and more complex view of love. In comparison to the dramatics of “fake dating” and love triangles, Sugiura’s portrayal of familial love is quieter and demands compassion, even for those who have hurt us.
It’s notable too, that Love & Other Natural Disasters confronts the difficulty of LGBTQIA+ identities within Asian American communities and families. While Nozomi’s uncle Stephen and his marriage play a minor role, he strikes a difficult balance that many perform today. It’s one that tries to recognize a deep tradition of love and respect for elders, while reckoning with the possibility of losing that connection. In that sense, the author challenges her protagonist’s dreamy ideals, rattling Nozomi’s self-imposed cage, to realize that love—both romantic and familial—isn’t always what you hope or expect it to be.
It’s a feel-good rom-com and, in that sense, Sugiura succeeds in carrying us through the twists and turns of young love. With a story that leaned so heavily on tropes, it’s inevitable that many parts of the plot were predictable. Oftentimes, I found myself at odds with the protagonist, wishing I could reach into the book and shove Nozomi in the right direction.
And yet, narratives like Love & Other Natural Disasters, portraying different races and sexuality, are desperately needed. While the book glazes over some major conversations around those issues, it still includes representation that is severely lacking in young adult romances—and where better than our true city of love?
Get Love & Other Natural Disasters on The Tempest’s Bookshop supporting local bookstores for $16.54.
Get The Tempest in your inbox. Read more exclusives like this in our weekly newsletter!
As The Tempest editors, we independently select and write about stuff we love and think you'll love, too. Just so you know, The Tempest may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. Heads up — prices are accurate and items in stock as of the time of publication.