Seeking to free herself from critics who had unjustly challenged the historical veracity of the Japanese American characters of her first novel, Kadohata deliberately placed In the Heart of the Valley of Love into a future Los Angeles of the year 2052, and made Francie, her protagonist, a mixed-race orphan. Yet this bold creative move failed to convince critics and readers. For science-fiction aficionados, the novel’s depiction of a futuristic Los Angeles did not go far enough, and for those interested in a coming-of-age story of a teenage woman, Francie’s life appeared too random and without a clear-cut development.
In the Heart of the Valley of Love opens with the disappearance of the boyfriend of Francie’s aunt, who may have been taken by the police. Moving from the desolate motel site of the kidnapping to the Los Angeles of the future gives rise to Francie’s detached observations of life in a collapsing urban agglomeration. There is a larger division between rich and poor, more crime, pollution, water and fuel shortages, and strange new diseases that cause the outbreak of black pearls from under people’s skin.
Readers looking for a setting akin to Ridley Scott’s futuristic Los Angeles in the film Blade Runner(1982) were disappointed by Kadohata’s much milder, less caustic dystopia. The future of her novel read more like the slightly altered 1970’s, when Kadohata lived in Los Angeles. A car jumps the curve and mangles Francie’s right arm—this episode mirrors the traumatic event from the author’s life which ultimately motivated her to leave Los Angeles for Boston and start writing fiction after 1977.
In rather episodic form, In the Heart of the Valley of Love continues to narrate events from Francie’s life in an inhospitable city. She joins the staff of her community college newspaper and falls in love with Mark, one of her quirky colleagues there. The novel continues to describe more events from her life ranging from trying to save a colleague from an abusive boyfriend to visits to eccentric characters such as a woman who keeps Christmas decorations up throughout the year. The episodes read like pearls on a string, some critics felt, but without a strong plot.