Frankly in Love by David Yoon, young adult author Nicola Yoon’s husband, is an intricate fictional first-person narrative from a Korean teen boy trying to overcome the subtle racism he was taught because he now finds himself liking a girl he knows his parents would never approve.
Frank Li is a first-generation Korean American teen living in Orange County, California. He starts falling for Brit Means, a white girl at his school. But he knows his strict Korean parents won’t be having that. They even practically disowned their older daughter, who attended Harvard and became an investment banker like she was groomed to do, but to them she canceled all her success by marrying a black man. Even with his best friend Q Lee, who’s black, Frank knows his parents aren’t the most comfortable with Q though they swear they love him like another son because he’s not like “other black people.” With that in his head, Frank decides to recruit his friend, Joy Song, who’s not only Korean but her parents are friends with Frank’s parents, to be his fake girlfriend. She also is hiding who she’s dating, a Chinese boy she knows her parents won’t approve of. While Frank invites Brit to his house with other friends, Brit doesn’t know about the ploy and falls deeper for her new boyfriend. After they exchange “I love you,” Frank is having doubts that he picked the right girl after all.
Frank’s voice is authentic with the constant worrying over race and how his hormones are leading him to someone outside his race then within his race but not within his income bracket. He struggles with how his immigrant parents racially profile everyone like many parents do, especially taking into consideration their American experience and what their parents taught them. The book does a good job in this mental back-and-forth of surveying the meaning of race around the character and seeing it affecting his life in a bad way yet not knowing how to avoid it. His internal monologue, though on the long side, shows what a lot of teens are coping with when it comes to relationships and their parents possibly not being supportive only because of the race of the partner they choose.
Some book reviews discuss the book’s length, and yes it’s too long and has the character going through a lot during his senior year on top of worrying about his love life, dealing with his parents, and trying to get into college. The beginning of the book is very long with over-describing his life and that same rhythm returns at the end, as in there are few times you think the book will end but it keeps going. It needed better editing when it came to length.
Overall, the book handles mixed-race relationships among teens well and how even today they may be dealing with heavier racial issues because they’re hearing their parents discuss race in a negative way. In this book, Frank becomes a bit obsessed analyzing race in his world, but he’s developing his viewpoints around cultural expectations and trying to figure out love in the process. Also listened to this story on audiobook where the narrator’s voice works except when he did the girls’ voice, which came out comical, but it’s a likeable audio read.