David Yoon was at jury duty during the heated 10-way auction for his debut YA novel, Frankly in Love (Putnam, Sept. 10), about a Korean American teen, Frank Li, who falls for a white girl and fake-dates a Korean American classmate to appease their respective strict parents. “My phone was blowing up, and I had to pretend to go to the bathroom,” he recalls.

Asked about the origins of the novel, Yoon, who grew up in Orange County, California, shares that his Korean immigrant parents had strict rules about dating: “I had to hide my entire love life from my parents.” He was expected to bring home a Korean girl. Yoon did no such thing. In 1997, while pursuing an MFA at Emerson College, he met his wife, Nicola Yoon. Nicola, who is of Jamaican descent, would become the bestselling author of the YA novels The Sun Is Also a Star and Everything, Everything, for which David would do the illustrations.

In a poignant scene in Frankly, Frank goes to a restaurant with his white girlfriend, Brit Means, and her parents. He’s suddenly foisted into the role of “Korean Food Tour Guide,” being asked to order for the table and explain each and every “foreign” dish that arrives. The scene captures the nuances of racial and cultural expectations as well as microaggressions from even those with the best intentions. “The core of being an immigrant kid, especially one who doesn’t present as white, is that you’re the one who’s always listening and adapting and paying careful attention to context and code-switching when necessary.”


That scene—indeed the entire book—will spark many conversations for readers. And perhaps viewers—Alloy Entertainment and Paramount Players, who acquired the film rights last fall, are developing Frankly in Lovefor a feature. “It’s so amazing….It was the right place, right time, right subject material.”—P.P.

Patricia Park, author of the novel Re Jane, is a professor in the MFA Program at American University and writes for the New York Times, the Guardian, and others.