Title: Frankly In Love
Author: David Yoon
Published: September 10, 2019
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
First generation Korean American high school senior Frank Li had never had a girlfriend.
A total nerd, he spent his sweet, suburban Californian days studying for advanced placement tests, playing dungeons and dragons with his equally geeky friends, and helping his dad at their grocery store on the weekends. When a girl finally revealed that she liked him, Frank Li frankly couldn’t be any happier—except for one thing: his traditional Korean parents would never approve of his relationship with someone who wasn’t Korean.
Rather than be open with his parents and make them see reason, Frank pretended to date his fellow Korean American family friend, Joy Song, while he hid his European American girlfriend, and Joy hid her Chinese American boyfriend from her parents. What ensued was not a cliche contemporary about fake dating, but a complicated story of love, family, and identity.
Frankly In Love immediately reeled me in with its comedic tone and direct, yet captivating writing style that had me thinking of a Neil Gaiman story. From the start of the book, David Yoon skirted fancy words and over-written descriptions to create an instantly likable character and to direct attention to a narrative that commanded laughter, tears, and more importantly, empathy.
An achingly relatable coming of age story, the book was obviously written by someone who grew up in a cultural tug-a-war. David Yoon was able to easily paint scenes of specific first generation Asian American experiences I’m all to familiar with, from the silly misinterpretations his immigrant parents made of American pop culture, to the misplaced, mentally draining parental expectations that were fueled by survivors’ mindsets. I was stunned by Yoon’s commitment to detail all the parts of Frank’s being, even the painstakingly, ugly truth that his parents were racist.
“Everyone is part of the problem, and everyone is part of the solution, and that’s what makes everything so infuriating.”
People create bubbles. Even the most well-meaning like Frank’s parents, who had made themselves malleable to a dynamic, foreign society, created a familiar Korean bubble that they expected Frank to live within. Frank Li deemed this idea “brain-lock”, and he was caught up an endless battle with it. There were no winners because Frank was not just Korean, but as long as he wanted to be a “good” son, he had to prescribe to his parents’ fraught dogma.
Although Frank had epiphanic and admirable developments, his efforts to break out of the mold he was born into were not perfect. He made mistakes that I found extremely disappointing, as the people he wronged were not given the restitution they deserved. Maybe it was not possible to make proper amends because of his age or the manner of the conflict, but I found that Frank’s failure to right his error was a glaring crack in the plot.
Frankly In Love was a layered, young adult contemporary that built upon the fan-favorite fake-dating trope to offer a fresh perspective on young love and cultural identity. Frank was a hilarious and flawed character, but just a typical teenage nerd in every sense.