I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo
Published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux on May 30, 2017
Genres: [Young Adult] Contemporary
1.5 Stars, Completed September 24, 2017
– read bold text ONLY to avoid MAJOR SPOILERS –
There’s been so much Asian rep lately with the hype around Crazy Rich Asians and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, so I thought I’d share an old, belated review before the month’s end. However, to my dismay, I didn’t enjoy this title nearly as much as I did CRA (in theater) and TAtBILB (my current read).
Real love: It was all about risk and having faith. There were no guarantees.
I Believe in a Thing Called Love is about hardworking perfectionist and star student, Desi Lee, and her plans of wooing her crush… not the traditional way but through the guidance of her beloved Korean dramas (catty girl fights, car crashes, and all). She’s certain that her K-drama list of to-do’s will win over Luka Drakos, because everyone surrenders to the magic of a good time-stopping, romantic straight out of a K-drama scene. But after a crazy turn of events, she realizes that love may be more complex and beyond simply “using a formula.” Desi may need to just learn to trust her heart and the process of falling it love itself (minus the drama and flair shown in films).
Of course, after stumbling upon the synopsis I thought this book screamed ME in big, bold letters because I’m quite notorious for loving my Asian dramas. But, unfortunately, this ended up being the letdown of 2017 for me.
I had extremely high expectations, but these hopes were almost immediately offset by the writing. The narrative was sort of too childish for my liking, which was a problem for me since it didn’t align with the fact that Desi is supposed to be one of the smartest kids in her school.
And, admittedly, I was slightly bummed when I discovered that the love interest wasn’t Asian.
Wait, don’t get me wrong! I have nothing against Luka being white… (irrelevant side note: for some reason the name, Luka Drakos, reminds me of Draco and Lucius Malfoy, haha…) but I was secretly hoping that the main male lead would be a dreamy Korean guy straight from one of those K-dramas. (cough Ji Chang Wook cough) I mean half of the charm of these shows are the good looking Korean male leads, you’ve got to admit.
Then I met the extremely unlikable heroine, Desi. To be completely honest, Desi’s one of the most unbearable protagonists I’ve come across; she’s the biggest reason behind why I could not enjoy this book. She doesn’t accurately represent nerd or Asian culture in my opinion. Instead she brings out the negative stereotype about “those smart kids” that people see/know in high school. Instead of appearing like a intellectual she was more of a pretentious know-it-all most of the time.
“Everyone’s weird, though. If you’re not even a little weird, you are truly weird. In that bad way. Not in the good way.”
Although, I did find her awkwardness relatable and I could easily see how it can be viewed endearing to some readers. Her flailures (moments of failed flirting) were both comical and painful at the same time.
I didn’t like Desi’s personality but it was really Desi’s actions that made her irredeemable by the end for me.
Both me and my buddy reading partner agreed that for someone that was supposed to be so smart and rational, she made incredibly dumb decisions often. I think the idea of using K-dramas as a guide to help her get the guy definitely can work and be cute… only if it’s not taken too far. Unfortunately, I Believe in a Thing Called Love chose not to take this route. I mean… Desi took things WAY overboard with her plans. It was definitely not okay for her to put her life as well as her crush, Luka’s, life in danger not one, not two, but THREE times. (I’m referring to the boat, the car, and the pool scenes.) Anyway, I am stunned that this detail seemed to be overlooked by other readers and reviewers that loved this book… but that’s just my black sheep two cents.
These major criticisms aside, there were three things I did like about this story.
I 110% adore Desi’s appa (the korean term for dad). He’s uber adorable. And only in those scenes did I feel ike Desi was a normal teenage girl; I saw a lot of myself in her in those moments and my dad in her appa.
And I was fond of one particular chapter, the epilogue. (But see? Conversely, this is a problem. It shouldn’t take me this long to finally enjoy a book…) Maybe it’s because all of the K-drama foolishness and nonsense was finally over. Maybe it’s because I knew that I was nearing the end. Or maybe it’s because I liked that Desi, Luka, and appa seemed to have a nice and sweet bonding time watching Descendants of the Sun. But it was a sweet ending that I found befitting for this kind of book.
Lastly, though I’m aware that this is still not very generous, I decided to bump this up to 1.5 stars because of the K-dramas that were featured. I give it to Goo for also throwing in some obscure titles here and there. I was overjoyed that the underrated Protect the Boss made it to final cut. I’m also pleased with myself that I recognized every single series that was mentioned. (However, this doesn’t mean I’ve watched all of them.)
Anyway, this is yet another instance where a YA contemporary book has made me feel like I’ve outgrown this demographic/genre. Believe me, I truly wanted to love this book but, alas, it was a vast disappointment, even for my K-drama loving self. It’s sad to see a book with so much potential fall flat for me personally.
I took a deep breath. You can do this. You are NOT flailure girl tonight. You are a K-drama heroine destined for love.
So the TL;DR is that, ultimately the characters ruined this story for me. But if you’re a massive Asian dramas junkie (particularly for Korean ones) and an avid reader, I think I Believe in a Thing Called Love is worth a chance if you keep your expectations low and have your mind open. It may even be fun for you to spot the easter egg drama references.