Desi Lee believes anything is possible if you have a plan. That’s how she became student body president. Varsity soccer star. And it’s how she’ll get into Stanford. But—she’s never had a boyfriend. In fact, she’s a disaster in romance, a clumsy, stammering humiliation magnet whose botched attempts at flirting have become legendary with her friends. So when the hottest human specimen to have ever lived walks into her life one day, Desi decides to tackle her flirting failures with the same zest she’s applied to everything else in her life. She finds guidance in the Korean dramas her father has been obsessively watching for years—where the hapless heroine always seems to end up in the arms of her true love by episode ten. It’s a simple formula, and Desi is a quick study. Armed with her “K Drama Steps to True Love,” Desi goes after the moody, elusive artist Luca Drakos—and boat rescues, love triangles, and staged car crashes ensue. But when the fun and games turn to true feels, Desi finds out that real love is about way more than just drama.
Description taken from Goodreads.
There’s been a handful of YA books about Koreans in the past few years, but up until now, the only solid one that I truly enjoyed was Paula Stokes’ Vicarious. I Believe in a Thing Called Love is the first book that is everything I hoped for in YA contemporary starring a Korean-American MC, so before I say anything else, I want to wholeheartedly thank Maurene Goo for writing it (and to Farrar, Straus & Giroux for publishing it).
That said, I went into I Believe in a Thing Called Love determined not to be disappointed. Translation: I kept my expectations low.
I wasn’t a fan of Since You Asked, Goo’s debut novel, and this one seemed far too close to Katie M. Stout’s Hello, I Love You with its focus on Korean media. If you’re thinking the same thing I was, fear not. I Believe in a Thing Called Love is so, so different from both novels. In fact, I was most impressed by the ways that Goo’s writing has grown in the past four years. I don’t remember much about her first release, but I vaguely recall disliking the main character and the cast in general. Here, they shine. The supporting characters had easily recognizable traits without being shallow. I loved Desi’s friendships and her relationship with her dad. She didn’t lose her relationships with others at all in the pursuit of Luca, and that made me really respect her.
Desi was, by far, the star of the show. It was her voice that made the story. Goo was able to joke and talk about Korean life in a way that was (mostly) natural and added the perfect depth to Desi’s world. It’s this ability to ingrain culture into a character’s lifestyle in ways that are both subtle and prominent that I feel should embody a diverse read.
I Believe in a Thing Called Love hit many of the right notes, two of which aren’t hit often. The first was the diversity piece. The second was the academic backdrop. Unlike in the vast majority of YA, the representation of what admissions to elite universities is like was spot-on. The highs, the lows, the doubt, the excitement, the unfortunate realities, and just how hard students work to get that acceptance letter. Goo stays true to it to the very end, and she wraps all the loose ends to show that everything works out the way it’s supposed to in the end.
On the topic of plot, I Believe in a Thing Called Love does a few things I would normally disapprove of like utilizing tropes in its plot line, but it weirdly works because the entire book is about clichés of Korean dramas. It’s like satire without ever being cruel. Even so, there were moments I’m still conflicted on. The bottom line is that some of the things Desi does are way out of line, like staging a car accident to get Luca’s attention. Not so solid decision-making right there. I get that there’s a certain amount of suspended disbelief with the entire novel, simply because of its premise. Regardless, I wasn’t big on some of Desi’s actions throughout the story. I also thought the process of Luca and Desi’s argument toward the end was rushed. There were other minor plot things, especially concerning Desi’s best friend Wes, that could’ve used more work.
Overall, a fantastic second novel from Maurene Goo and one of the best romcoms I’ve read this year. The writing can still improve; easy suggestions would be to stop bringing in so many minor characters (and avoid using full names) and lay off the descriptions. Trust the audience to fill in the characters by themselves. But Maurene’s on my list of contemporary writers to watch, and I’m excited to see what she comes up with next. 4 stars.