Book Title: I Believe in a Thing Called Love Author: Maurene Goo Number of pages: 336
She finds guidance in the Korean dramas her father has been obsessively watching for years—where the hapless heroine always seems to end up in the arms of her true love by episode ten. It’s a simple formula, and Desi is a quick study. Armed with her “K Drama Steps to True Love,” Desi goes after the moody, elusive artist Luca Drakos—and boat rescues, love triangles, and staged car crashes ensue. But when the fun and games turn to true feels, Desi finds out that real love is about way more than just drama.
Should this book be picked up? the tl;dr review:
– Great concept bogged down by the relationship not reading too genuine and too much of a social experiment for the protagonist
– Excellent fatherly figure and family dynamics that underscore the plot
– Contemporary world building inclusive of Korean culture (e.g. multimedia, food, random trivia)
– Plethora of Korean drama references
– Romance can feel thin as reliance after fulfillment of utilizing Korean dramas develop relationship
I can appreciate the clever intent of this story as I too went through a dorama phase when I was much younger.
Disclaimer: I received an ARC of I Believe in a Thing Called Love from Raincoast Books.
I Believe in a Thing Called Love captures the essence of Korean dramas and utilizes the manner in which two characters inexplicably meet-and-fall-in-love to form the basis to which Desi Lee essentially gets that Disney happily-ever-after.
There are two avenues of thought to analyze Believe: one where the plot-and-conflict subverts the common tropes in contemporary romance and/or doramas (dramas) and one where the story is a cheese-fest of poor decisions and very questionable teaching moments. My opinion straddles the line of the two. While I can definitely appreciate that it picks apart the building blocks of what forms this tried-and-true form of entertainment, I take certain issue with the self-awareness of it all in its use to “win” the love interest.
With that in mind, the factitious teaching moment in this story, if there was any, is met with hesitance because it puts supporting roles into really bad situations all for the sake of romance. So while all of this does add value to the premise, the delivery of it as a whole was lacking for me.
The contemporary world building is solid; inclusive of the Korean elements through food, the environment at home, and even Asian tips-and-tricks. It’s accessible and does not bog down the story with having to build a substantial world for the sake of making the setting feel more “Korean”. There’s a specific scene that comes to mind with cooking ramen that I really appreciated. In the scene was Desi and her father, and the love interest, and they’re legitimately preparing a meal. But the candor to which the scene developed in elevating the importance and culture of family in Korean (and or Asian) literature is well developed and penned. I enjoy the applicability of using k-drama conventions to finding a love interest but I low-key wish the love interest was of Asian heritage of well (see: I’m going by the fact that Desi called Luca Drakos “Caucasian lad” which in itself is very… :/).
There’s also this one scene where it transitions from this beaten off-the-road train tracks vibe to being next to an avocado farm (?) that was just jarring to read as it didn’t really bleed into each other and just felt introduced as is with no break.
Is this story fluffy and light-hearted? Yes.
Does this book elicit second-hand embarrassment? Absolutely.
Was the development of the relationship compelling given the need to follow the “steps”? Difficult to say. This is the main issue I had with Believe, that the journey felt like a social experiment of sorts that, upon fulfillment, it just lacked substance to be and feel genuine and real. Not only that, it was the lackluster conflict that seemed to resolve itself quickly and within the matter of pages (or so it seemed).
The next bit is a spoiler so stop reading the italicized indent if you must.
I previously spoke about the self-awareness of Desi to using narrative and stylistic choices in Korean dramas to finding her romance in her own life. One scenario had Desi basically lay down a track of spike-like material to pop the tires on Luca’s car, whereby causing an “accident”. I’m just going to pause right there and say: what. the. hell. For romance to take precedence like that over someone’s well-being and safety…uh… that’s some bat shit craziness going on and I am not okay with that.
I must first point out that I enjoyed the Desi’s father. Not only does is he present, Believe roots part of its conflict in schooling and betterment, and grounds that by focusing on the familial bond as it relates to her deceased mother and the academic heights Desi strives to meet.
Similarly, Desi’s friends were rad as heck.
Now, for Luca, his character reads very familiar to most YA contemporary leads (see: with an added layer of kdrama). On face value, love interests are [generally] gorgeous, have inherent issues from home, and ostensibly make fun of the protagonist a lot; by jokes or by snarky comments. Luca is this, and whether or you’re okay with the passing character judgment comments like “nerd” then I think you’ll be okay with him.
Desi, on the page, reads very true to me from the perspective of being (prospectively first generation) Asian-American and aspires for academic greatness in the vein of her mother (even if her drive meanders a bit given her project for romance). That said, her introspection is one the highlights to her character.
I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo has its moments of genius that subverts how we see romance in media and its applicability towards acting on those same scenes in real life — that might/might not work for the better. But as a story that centers around the relationship itself, it didn’t work out for me.