Frankly in Love
Frankly In Love has a lot of romance in it, but it’s a coming of age story, not a romance, and the ending is bittersweet. There’s some really painful stuff in here and some wonderful stuff, too. It’s a lovely YA that should also appeal to adults because of the strength of the writing and the power of the book’s themes.
The book is narrated by Frank Li, a Korean-American high school senior. The narration is in first person, present tense. His parents immigrated from Korea before he was born and run a small store. His sister, Hanna, married an African-American man instead of a Korean. Because of this, Hanna has been disowned by her parents. Frank misses his sister and also fears a similar fate should he date, as he puts it, “outside the tribe.” It is very important to Frank’s parents that he date a Korean-American girl.
Frank has two groups of friends. Every month, his parents get together with other families who immigrated from Korea at about the same time. The kids have grown up together at these and they call themselves The Limbos. They don’t socialize much outside of the Gatherings. At school Frank hangs out with the “Apeys,” which is to say the group of students who have taken all the A.P. and Honors classes through high school together. Frank’s best friend, Q, who is Africen-American, is an Apey, and his friend Joy is one of both the Apeys and the Limbos.
All this set up explains what happens when Joy starts secretly dating Wu, who is Chinese-American and therefore not someone her parents would let her date, and Frank falls in love with fellow Apey Brit, who is White and therefore also off-limits. Since Frank and Joy are both Korean, Frank and Joy decide to pretend to their parents to be dating each other, while secretly dating the people they actually want to be with. They do not reveal to their significant others that they are doing this because their significant other would take great offense at being kept a secret. It’s a very stupid and complicated plan, which Q points out many times, and which only makes since when you recall that Joy and Frank are both very young and have no actual real relationship experience whatsoever. And yes, the fact that this is a shitty thing to do on many levels does in fact lead to consequences.
In the course of tackling the romance issue, Frank talks about race, immigration, work ethic, his fears about the future, and his friendship with Q. He also talks about his relationship with his family members. A large range of poignant emotions are involved and I was so intensely caught up in the story that periodically I had to take a break from it. Yet it’s also a very sweet story that made me feel good even though it went in directions I didn’t expect which made me cry. Frank does so many stupid things, yet he’s completely believable and relatable as a character, and I was totally invested in his story and his character development.
Ultimately, the story isn’t about romantic relationships so much as it’s about relationships, period. Frank has to decide for himself what his “tribe” is, and how and when to say “I love you,” words which his parents use sparingly. He has to find his own way to be close to his parents and still be himself. Frank and his friends always say to each other, “You do you!” and Frank has to figure out how to do that ethically.
I would not recommend this to anyone expecting a romance novel but I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a story about family, immigration, race, and becoming an adult. It’s a lovely, painful, frustrating, funny, sweet story and I wish Frank all the best. You do you, sweetie.