By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
I Believe in a Thing Called Love
By Maurene Goo
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017
Desi Lee is a girl with a plan. A plan for everything. It’s how she became a student body president and star player on the soccer team. And it’s how she’ll get accepted into Stanford. But despite all the planning, she’s never had a boyfriend and her failed attempts at flirting (“flailures”) are legendary among her friends.
So when the new boy in school, one Luca Drakos, becomes interested in her, Desi does what she does best: plan. She finds guidance in the Korean dramas her father has been obsessed with for years—the same K-dramas she has dismissed.
And as you could expect, hilarity ensues as Desi plans and implements crazy situations, ranging from boat rescues to fake love triangles to staged car crashes. But soon everything becomes more real and she realizes there are things in real life that can’t be solved by a bout of slapstick comedy.
“Believe” is the story of a girl who has spent most of her life with very specific goals and does not let anything stop her from achieving them. It’s enjoyable to see how she deals with things when her plans go awry. Desi has a strong type-A personality and she knows how to get things done, so it’s amusing when things don’t go her way. And although she may have the top grades and be in all the right clubs, she is also flawed and blinded by her need to be perfect (there is a reason for this). These flaws make her more human and relatable to readers.
In addition to a strong protagonist, “Believe” also features strong secondary characters—from Desi’s two best friends who keep her ambitions in check, to her father with whom she shares a very close bond.
While they are all there to support Desi in her new adventures in romance, they also bring her back down to Earth when her ambitions get the best of her (and they definitely do).
Frankly in Love
By David Yoon
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2019
Born and raised in southern California, Frank Li is an all-American boy in his senior year of high school, going through many of the things American teens experience at that age: taking the SATs and applying to colleges, spending as much time with his friends before they go their separate ways, catching “senioritis.”
He even starts dating his first girlfriend: Brit Means.
The only problem is that in addition to being American, Frank is also Korean. And his parents want him to end up with a nice Korean girl. Brit is white. Needless to say, issues arise.
Enter Joy Song, a family friend who is in a similar predicament with her Chinese American boyfriend.
Realizing they both have the same problem, Frank proposes a possible solution to Joy. Now all of a sudden, Frank’s life gets a lot more complicated.
“Frankly” is the story about first love and the big feelings that come with it. Yoon does a great job of capturing what it’s like to be young and in love for the first time, and how that relationship is everything to a young person. And it was refreshing to see it from a male perspective. Personally, as a female reader, it was nice to see boys at that age can be just as excited and confused about relationships.
Readers will also get a glimpse of what it can be like to date coming from an immigrant background. I found some of the struggles Frank experiences and the hoops he jumps through to have a love life to be very relatable.
Yoon also showcases the roles our different relationships have on us—from Frank’s relationship with his parents, to his close but geographically distant relationship with his sister, to the bond he shares with his best friend, Q. Readers will see how important they can be and have us appreciating more the people in our lives.
Our Wayward Fate
By Gloria Chao
Simon Pulse, 2019
At 17, Ali Chu has grown up as the only Asian person in her Indiana school. And to fit in, she knows she must be as bland as white toast to survive—meaning eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and ignoring the racism from her classmates and teachers.
For most of her life, she has been on autopilot. But that is abruptly disrupted when Chase Yu, the new kid in town who also happens to be Taiwanese, shows up at school. Ali initially resists getting close to Chase because according to everyone at school, “they belong together.” But then she finds it nice and a relief to be able to be herself around someone who gets it, someone she can joke with in two languages and stand up with, to the everyday racism they face.
But Ali’s mother finds out and forces her to end the relationship. Not one to stand by and let that go, Ali starts digging into why her mother is so against the relationship and uncovers secrets.
“Wayward Fate” is the story about a young woman trying to figure out where she belongs in a world where she has never felt like she was enough—not white enough to fit in among her classmates and not male enough (or at all) for a mother who seemingly wanted a son.
In addition to Ali’s story, Chao includes snippets of a retelling of the Chinese folktale, “The Butterfly Lovers,” which may be intertwined with Ali’s fate.
Ali is a strong young woman who may seem passive and initially just lets things happen to her, but readers quickly learn that she just needed to find her power and stand up for herself.
Chao does a great job with the complications that come with relationships, from familial to romantic to platonic. There are layers to Ali’s relationships with the people in her life— just as there are layers to the relationships most of us have with the people in our lives.
Samantha can be reached at email@example.com.