California high school senior Desi Lee is good at almost everything she does: she’s the class president; she’s on track to be the valedictorian; she’s on two different varsity sports; she’s a member of multiple clubs; she is just as comfortable identifying local trees as she is working on cars. The one thing she’s pretty terrible at is FLIRTING—so mostly, she avoids it. Which is why—despite her all-around awesome adorability—she’s never had a boyfriend.
Enter new boy in school, Luca Drakos:
“Hey,” he said, his voice all handsome. He had a handsome voice.
Almost immediately, he and Desi have A Moment. And almost immediately after that, Desi suffers a horrifying embarrassment. But! Because of the way it’s written, while the cringeworthy horror of the moment is fully there, it’s a moment that allows the reader to laugh out loud. Or, at least, that’s how I reacted—by laughing out loud WHILE moaning, “Nooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!”
Review spoiler: this book is a joy from the moment it leaves the gate.
ANYWAY. Desi knows she needs help, so she turns to the Korean dramas that her widower dad is addicted to—and after binging on them for days, she figures out the formula, writes out a list of K Drama Steps to True Love, and she sets out to follow it to the letter. Shenanigans ensue.
By the time I finished reading this book, my face hurt from all of the smiling. I smirked, I giggled, I laughed out loud.
Digression: The moment I finished, I fired up Netflix, picked a random K Drama—Playful Kiss, if you’re wondering—and promptly watched three episodes in a row. Let me tell you, I AM HOOKED. I watched those three episodes with a big goofy grin on my face from start to finish, and all I want to do today is make time to watch more. Except I can’t, because my husband is ALSO hooked, so now I have to wait for him to get home before watching more. End digression.
At this point, you’re probably getting my drift: I loved this book. But for those of you who need actual reasons, like, something more than me running around wearing cartoon heart eyes and yelling ZOMG SO FUNNY, here are a few more:
Friends! The relationships between Desi and her best friends Fiona and Wes are beautifully done, and it’s clear that they have a long history full of in-jokes and Old Friend Secret Language and affection and respect. They fully support one another, but they’re also there to tell each other when they’re misstepping—Fiona, especially, tries to rein Desi in again and again:
Family! Desi’s relationship with her father is The Best. Warm and open and respectful and again, supportive, and above all, REAL. For instance:at one point, she is in the depths of despair and won’t stop eating her father’s favorite pickles, and he calls her a pickle monster, and that moment so perfectly illustrates their relationship in a way that just KILLS ME. There’s also a lovely thread about grief and mourning, and about the different ways that Desi and her father reacted—short- and long-term—to her mother’s death.
As close as they are, watching K Dramas together helps Desi—who is first generation Korean-American—understand some things about how and why she and her father, who immigrated to America from Korea in his early adulthood, are different. Desi’s father is written as a three-dimensional person, with his own struggles and triumphs. He is, of course, primarily portrayed as Desi’s Dad, because this is her story, but there are moments that show how he navigates his own personal immigrant experience, while also showing how Desi has a foot in—and thus, an understanding of—multiple worlds:
“My name’s Jae-won, but you can call me Jae!” he said in the cheerful voice he used when he met the White People who couldn’t pronounce his name.
Our faves are problematic! There are going to be some readers who take issue with some—okay, a lot—of Desi’s actions. After all, her plan to win over Luca is inherently manipulative and somewhat devious, and on multiple occasions, she finds herself teetering on the brink of Unacceptable Behavior and then decides to Go For It and dives right on over.
In every single one of those cases, she justifies her actions—to herself—with an example from a K Drama, and as she is so goal-oriented, that justification works within the context of her characterization, the story, and, based on my Admittedly Extremely Shallow Knowledge, the conventions of K Drama itself. It works, too, because it’s so clear that Desi is using both K Drama and her List to bolster her own confidence, to work past her own insecurities to achieve her goals while attempting to shield her own vulnerabilities. In real life, I’d probably run screaming. But in the world of this book? I’m all-in, in love, and here for more.
My advice? Pre-order now, now, now.
In addition to running a library in rural Maine, Leila Roy blogs at Bookshelves of Doom and The Backlist, is currently serving on the Amelia Bloomer Project committee, is a contributor at Book Riot, hangs out on Twitter a lot—possibly too much—and watches a shocking amount of television. Her cat is a murderer.