High school senior Frank Li is a Limbo–his term for Korean-American kids who find themselves caught between their parents’ traditional expectations and their own Southern California upbringing. His parents have one rule when it comes to romance–“Date Korean”–which proves complicated when Frank falls for Brit Means, who is smart, beautiful–and white. Fellow Limbo Joy Song is in a similar predicament, and so they make a pact: they’ll pretend to date each other in order to gain their freedom. Frank thinks it’s the perfect plan, but in the end, Frank and Joy’s fake-dating maneuver leaves him wondering if he ever really understood love–or himself–at all.
I was really excited to read Frankly in Love, as it was an own-voices Korean-American story, with the fake-dating trope – which is one of my favorite tropes ever -, so I had high hopes.
This book turned out to be… a lot, for quite different reasons, so let’s break those down:
TW: racism, racist slurs, cheating, cancer, death of a loved one, shootings
- The writing. I don’t think David Yoon’s writing will necessarily work for everyone, as it is both detailed and not detailed at all, lol. I don’t know how to explain it, but he hardly ever describes scenarios, but when he does, it’s very lush. What I liked the most about the writing was the dialogues – all the characters had fantastic banter and, even if it wasn’t entirely realistic, it was a lot of fun to read.
- The discussions on being Korean-American. As the synopsis suggests, Frank Li considers himself a “Limbo” – his parents are Korean and do not speak English; he’s American and does not speak Korean. I really appreciated the discussion of identity and family, and how much Frank felt disconnected from his parents because of the language barrier, as well as how he felt alienated from the Korean community in general. It was really interesting and made me reflect a lot.
- Nuanced characters!! While I did not love our protagonist and the writing of some of the characters, I do think the author was able to write successfully nuanced/flawed characters. Frank’s parents, for example, who are racist and say a lot of ignorant things, are still his parents and show a number of other layers besides that. I think it was incredibly important to show such grey area.
- Frank Li. I just really did not like Frank that much. He’s an interesting character, but his decision making was very questionable the entire time. It’s not that he was awful, but I do think it was harder for me to be fully immersed in the story since I did not like our main and this was a first-person book after all.
- The romance, and the fake dating too. The romance in this book is just… the worst. Not only the instance of cheating was taken way too lightly, I really did not feel for either of the relationships. They were both incredibly insta-love-y and I had no idea why these characters were already saying “I love you” to each other so early in their relationship, especially because the interactions tended to be so dry, with not enough emotional connection.
- The female representation in general. Unfortunately, that’s the one thing about reading books by straight men: the female rep tends to be shit, lol. Brit and Joy were pretty flat characters; Joy was a little bit more three-dimensional because she was a Limbo like Frank and they could bond over that, but in general, I feel like through so many of the conflicts in this book, Joy was just *there* and we could never really see what she really thought and felt about the situation. She didn’t express many emotions, despite most of the conflicts having to deal with her or her family. There’s also the side character of Q’s sister, who in EVERY SINGLE INSTANCE is described as “hot”, “smoking hot”, “gorgeous”, etc, and that’s the only trait we really know of her. The fact Q, Frank and his dad are the most developed characters in the story say enough about what representation mattered the most there.
Overall, this book would’ve worked better for me perhaps if it hadn’t been marketed as a “YA romance”, especially because I feel like the romance was by far the worst layer of the book. I think it would’ve been more accurate to describe it as a coming of age story, that depicts layers of racism, prejudice, family and identity.
I still would consider reading more David Yoon in the future, as I actually really enjoyed the writing style. He has a new book coming out next month that I’m actually pretty excited about, and hopefully it will be better than this one.
Have you read Frankly in Love? If so, what are your thoughts? If you have more fake dating books to recommend, let me know!