A talented overachiever resorts to lessons gleaned from Korean pop culture in hopes of finding love.
Korean-American Desi Lee is a remarkably self-aware high school senior who finds that as long as she has “a plan—all’s well.” When she swoons for Luca Drakos, an alluring white transfer student, Desi doesn’t hesitate to share with him that she’s “school president, on varsity soccer and tennis, in five different clubs,” and “pretty much slated to be valedictorian.” Desi’s confidence knows no bounds, except when it comes to the opposite sex. Repeated attempts at wooing would-be suitors having backfired, Desi finds Luca too good to lose, so she turns to an unlikely mainstay of her home life for help: the Korean dramas her widower father has watched obsessively for years, where star-crossed lovers seem always to win in the end. (A starter guide is helpfully appended.) Previously dismissing the formulaic K dramas as the “white noise” of her life, Desi begins to study their plotlines intently, going so far as to craft 24 “K Drama Steps to True Love.” Desi’s implementation of measures such as “Be Caught in an Obviously Lopsided Love Triangle,” yields hilarious, at times unintended results, lending this teen rom-com a surprisingly thoughtful conclusion.
Plot-driven as the K dramas Goo’s protagonist seeks to emulate, her funny, engaging narrative also delivers powerful messages of inclusion and acceptance.
Tom Grendel battles unruly neighbors and honors family history, all with an eye on the girl next door, in this witty debut novel and homage to Beowulf.
The white Jewish teen actually likes his home in the “retirement mecca” of Lake Heorot in Virginia. Since his mother’s unexpected death, the older ladies in the community bake Tom casseroles, and he mows their lawns and gathers their oral histories. More important, it’s been a quiet community for Tom and his widower father, Aaron, an Iraq War vet who suffers from PTSD. But when white local newscaster Ellen Rothgar moves in and her son, Rex, and nephew, Wolf, begin to hold loud, all-night parties that trigger Aaron’s PTSD, Tom vows to rid the neighborhood of these thugs. A fine blend of quirkiness and raw emotion ensues as Tom and his neighbors wage war against one another, using fog machines, artisanal pigs, and other outlandish ammunition. Assisted by his spunky older sister and Ed, a Korean-American friend who waits tables at a knockoff American Girl cafe, Tom also hopes to save Rex’s sister, Willow, in the process. Just as in the original epic, this loyal teen confronts his own identity and memories, particularly those of his mother. He wonders if he can really know a person. Can anyone? Deep and uproarious all at once, this doesn’t require familiarity with the source material for readers to have a fine time with it.
A clever spin on a weighty classic.
It’s the end of high school, and Shabnam Qureshi has lost her best friend and has no summer job, but the summer quickly becomes unforgettable when she finds herself falling in love.
Pakistani-American Shabnam does many things wrong, including kissing an obnoxious white boy in a party game after he disses her best friend with a bigoted joke, being ashamed of her great-uncle for his religious/ethnic appearance, and lying about her great-uncle’s experience during Partition—a lie that, in a satisfying twist of poetic justice, haunts her. Still, by the time she falls head over heels for Jamie, a white college student in town for the summer, readers can’t help but feel protective of Shabnam. When she finds the guts to reconnect with her fascinating best friend, Farah, things really get interesting. In this relationship with another Pakistani-American girl, readers catch a glimpse of the diversity among Muslims. Shabnam is decidedly secular, at times sounding anti-religion, as when she tries to convince Farah not to wear the hijab. Farah, however, feels “too Muslim for the non-Muslims, but not Muslim enough for the Muslims.” Even as Shabnam and Farah make this satisfying trek back to friendship, Shabnam learns to relate to her parents, exploring Urdu poetry and Sufism, two of her father’s interests, which are likely to interest readers as well.
Populated by complicated characters who are so well described readers will feel they might bump into them on the street, Karim’s second novel delivers on its title’s promise.
An 18th-century Grand Tour goes exquisitely wrong.
Eighteen-year-old white viscount Henry “Monty” Montague is as known for his dashing looks as his penchant for booze—and boys. Before his abusive father grooms him to run the estate, he and his mixed-race best friend, Percy, orphan son of a British colonist and a Barbadian woman, are sent on a yearlong Grand Tour—after which he and Percy will likely be separated forever. Adding insult, their Tour begins under the proviso that, after Monty’s sister is delivered to school in Marseille, Monty will remain on the sober straight and narrow or else risk loss of title and fortune. Monty wastes no time in demolishing this agreement in Paris when he gets hammered, offends Percy, insults a duke, ends up naked at Versailles, and steals an objet from the palace in a fit of childish rage. The theft ignites an adventure that illuminates a side of life the trio wouldn’t have otherwise seen. Issues of same-sex romance walk in stride with those of race as Monty and Percy find their footing amorously, sexually, and socially. Their realized attraction could mean imprisonment or death, and their relationship is often misconstrued as lord and valet due to Percy’s brown skin. The book’s exquisite, bygone meter and vernacular sit comfortably on a contemporary shelf. And the friction of racism, tyrannical entitled politicians, and misguided disapproval of homosexuality also have a relevance rooted in current culture’s xeno- and homophobia.
Austen, Wilde, and Indiana Jones converge in this deliciously anachronistic bonbon.
(Historical fiction. 12-18)
Redgate deftly harmonizes a lighthearted plot with an exploration of privilege, identity, and personal agency.
Jordan Sun is a Chinese-American high school junior from a working-poor family who feels a bit out of place at her prestigious, arts-focused boarding school in upstate New York. Though the school’s diversity policy is bringing in more students from minority backgrounds, most of her classmates are still wealthy and white. After continued rejection for roles in the theater department, Jordan decides to try her hand at something new and joins one of the school’s legendary a cappella groups: a traditionally all-male one. To audition, Jordan adopts the male persona of Julian, and when Julian is accepted to fill a tenor spot with the group, Jordan must slip into the role of her life. As a first-person narrator, Jordan is often dryly sarcastic, but it is her lyrical prose that brings depth and empathy to a story that could otherwise be another needless riff on the cross-dressing trope. “It’s too simple to hate the people who have doorways where you have walls,” she reflects. Wearing Julian’s identity causes Jordan to question her assumptions regarding femininity, masculinity, and sexuality. Jordan ultimately shatters her own self-limiting expectations and in doing so encourages readers to do likewise.
A heart song for all readers who have ever felt like strangers in their own skins
. (Fiction. 13-18)
A tough, self-disciplined Chinese-American teen deals with the supernatural derailing of her college-prep activities in this speculative fiction novel that draws on the folklore of the Chinese Monkey King.
In a dry, wickedly funny, first-person voice, overachiever Genie Lo easily brings readers into her corner as she puzzles with irritation over the behavior of gorgeous, goofy Quentin, newly arrived from China, who presents himself as a new student at her school and seems to think he knows her. As his story—and subsequently hers—reveals itself, it will surprise no one that the two have an extensive history together, though her actual relationship to him is a clever and fascinating detail. Genie gradually warms to him in a true-to-type romantic comedy that is filled with witty banter and valiant attempts by Genie to resist their attraction. Genie’s poignantly rendered immediate family history and incisive observations about her mostly Asian classmates and community balance the plentiful action in the battles she and Quentin undertake against a plethora of ferocious, eerily described yaoguai. Readers unfamiliar with the story of the Monkey King are easily brought up to speed early on, and the contemporary setting provides plenty of comedic juxtaposition.
An exciting, engaging, and humorous debut that will appeal widely, this wraps up neatly enough but leaves an opening for further installments—here’s hoping
. (Fantasy. 13-18)