I Believe in a Thing Called Love
Publication date May 30th, 2017
Goodreads: See Review
Plot at a Glance:
A high school senior and Valedictorian in her class, Desi Lee is extremely talented in a lot of things, but love isn’t one of them. Every interaction with an attractive boy ends in “flailure” (a flirting failure) and total embarrassment. So Desi hatches a plan: utilize the steps from the Korean-Dramas her father loves to watch each evening in order to land herself a man. And not just any man, she’s interested in brooding-artist and new kid on the block, Luca Drakos. Armed with her steps from Korean-dramas, Desi puts her plans into motion, and begins to learn that real-love is about more than just drama.
Full disclaimer, I’ve never seen a K-Drama before (although this book definitely peaked my interest in them) so I can’t definitively judge how well this book actually aligns with the execution of the televised dramas. However, Maurene Goo does a spectacular job of explaining them to readers who have never seen them before, and based on her explanation, I think I have a handle on how they work. Plus, I had my wonderful reading buddy, Josh (Forever Bookish Josh) reading along with me and he helped fill me in too.
I want to be clear: rating this book was difficult! I kept going back and forth between 3 and 4 stars for a number of reasons. There’s some super cute and endearing aspects of this book, and it’s quite well written, but I can’t just overlook some of the more problematic elements either.
One thing I loved about this story was the diverse and widely varied characters. There’s so much positive representation and visibility here, which is always a plus in my book. Desi’s parents emigrated to America before she was born, so her Korean heritage is still a large part of her life and factors heavily into the story. One of my favorite aspects had to be the quieter moments, between Desi and her father. Maurene Goo incorporates a lot of information about Korean culture: television, language, food, etc., in their conversations and left me feeling like this is one book where I’m coming away from it feeling like I learned a few things.
Also, can I just say how refreshing it is to see a healthy parent/teenage protagonist relationship in a YA novel? I feel like so often the parents are absent from the story, or enemies of the main character and that’s certainly not the case here.
However, despite how cute and fun I may have found those smaller, more intimate moments, I was really dismayed by the main character, Desi, and found her behavior extremely problematic. Despite being the Valedictorian of her graduating class, Desi has extreme self-esteem issues and can’t talk to boys without embarrassing herself, so she comes up with a plan to land herself Luca Drakos, the hottest boy in school.
Utilizing steps meticulously taken from the K-Dramas she watches with her dad, Desi sets out to seduce herself a boyfriend. There’s just one problem: she becomes totally complicit in lying, and hurting other people in order to do it. Which I just can’t get behind.
I’m not even going to beat around the bush here. Desi’s actions reach a point where the only way I could enjoy the story any further was to pretend that I was reading a psychological thriller. Seriously, that’s how absurd some of the choices she makes are. The poor girl was in need of a therapist by the end of the book, not a boyfriend. One question I like to ask myself as I read, is “if the genders were reversed, would we still support this character’s choices,” and in all honesty, I don’t think we would.
I don’t mean to imply that I disliked this book. On the contrary, I really enjoyed most of it. It’s fast-paced, and the conversations between characters are really cute. I just wanted more accountability for Desi’s actions in the end than we ended up getting.
✯✩= 3.5 stars out of 5!
Thanks to Netgalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
I want to give a shout-out to my friend Josh, who buddy read this book with me! He’s an amazing friend I made on Goodreads, who writes awesome reviews and takes some stellar bookstagram photos. You can follow him on Goodreads here, and follow his WordPress here. He and I will be buddy reading The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst, next!