Frankly in Love by David Yoon
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers (Sept 10, 2019)
Review copy courtesy of PRH International
Two friends. One fake dating scheme. What could possibly go wrong?
Frank Li has two names. There’s Frank Li, his American name. Then there’s Sung-Min Li, his Korean name. No one uses his Korean name, not even his parents. Frank barely speaks any Korean. He was born and raised in Southern California.
Even so, his parents still expect him to end up with a nice Korean girl–which is a problem, since Frank is finally dating the girl of his dreams: Brit Means. Brit, who is funny and nerdy just like him. Brit, who makes him laugh like no one else. Brit . . . who is white.
As Frank falls in love for the very first time, he’s forced to confront the fact that while his parents sacrificed everything to raise him in the land of opportunity, their traditional expectations don’t leave a lot of room for him to be a regular American teen. Desperate to be with Brit without his parents finding out, Frank turns to family friend Joy Song, who is in a similar bind. Together, they come up with a plan to help each other and keep their parents off their backs. Frank thinks he’s found the solution to all his problems, but when life throws him a curveball, he’s left wondering whether he ever really knew anything about love—or himself—at all.
Saying that I am insanely excited for David Yoon’s debut novel, Frankly in Love may be quite an understatement. Ever since the news broke that Penguin was publishing his book about a Korean-American teen being in love for the first time and I was definitely on board! Then the gods bestowed an unmissable opportunity upon me when I was offered a spot in the blog tour by Penguin Random House USA International. So thank you, my friends over at PRH International for having me!
When Mom-n-Dad say American, they mean white. When they refer to themselves–or me–they say hanguksaram, or Korean. I never call myself just Korean. I call myself Korean-American, always leading first with Korean or Asian, then the silent hyphen, then ending with American. Never just American.
Frank Li is a Korean-American teen who juggles between his parents’ expectations of him and his SoCal upbringing and worrying about not being Korean enough as he believes the hyphen between his Korean-Americanness makes him caught between two cultures. Growing up, Frank has been taught by his parents that he has to work hard and marry a Korean girl, nothing else. But life isn’t always that simple, is it? Frank falls in love with Brit Means who’s everything he’s ever dreamed of. Problem is? She’s white. Another person who’s in the same situation? Fellow Korean-American Joy Song. Together, Frank and Joy hatch a plan: fake-date each other so they can go on actual dates with their significant others. It does sound like the perfect plan, doesn’t it?
Fake-dating? Count me in! An #OwnVoices book? Sold!
The thing is, Frankly in Love isn’t a very easy book to review as there were some things that tugged at my heartstrings and made me feel for Frank but there were parts where I just couldn’t connect with him. However, one of the reasons why I really enjoyed Frankly in Love is the exploration of different issues such as racism and Frank’s constant state of “Limbo” as he calls it when he’s caught between his Korean roots and growing up in the west.
Evidently, Frankly in Love is a very personal story David Yoon has shared with it. The struggles of a Korean-American living far from his homeland and losing his bearings whenever his parents talk about their lives and hardships back in South Korea before they moved to America.
We said three words few ever say to each other. It’s hard for me to pin down exactly what the precious words signify. They are a pact, a declaration. Also a kind of relinquishing. Saying I love you is the cry of the helpless. All you can do is confess it and hope it shows you mercy.
In terms of romance, it was clear as day and a fire sign that Frank was going to fall in love with Joy. Like, hello. Fake-dating trope, you are a dear and favourite friend of mine. The romance is everything you would expect from a John Green novel, which is adorable and you’d want to root for both of them. I admit, I did laugh and smile when they got all cute and I felt my chilly little heart thaw a wee bit.
If I may be frank, I really didn’t care much for Frank’s relationship with Brit but I loved how his relationship with his father developed throughout the book and it did warm my heart a little that they did have some “jeong” together, which is a connection you have with someone you care deeply for that is very important in Korean culture. I liked how the portrayal of Frank’s parents was authentic and well done, despite their flaws—CW: they do say some racist things about other coloured people in the book.
Life is but a dream. My dream? So beautiful dream I’m having whole my life, God giving me. Beautiful wife I having. Store success having. Beautiful son Stanford going. My daughter too, beautiful woman she becoming. You telling Hanna my dream is best dream.
Here comes the bombshell. I didn’t like Frank most of the time. Sure, he can be your typical, cool and geeky YA hero who has his quirks and unique turn of phrases but I really couldn’t connect with him at all. Though the book is narrated from Frank’s point of view, I was more intrigued to know more about Joy or his best friend Q as my baby Q deserves so much better!
All in all, Frankly in Love is a bit of an unusual book—in a good way—that you will devour. I liked that it was filled with light-hearted moments and in a flip of the page, you could feel yourself being sucker punched unexpectedly. Granted, this is a book that is important for those who don’t feel like they don’t belong.
Quotes were taken from the finished copy of the international edition.