Monday, September 7, 2020

Review - I Believe in a Thing Called Love

Original Title: I Believe in a Thing Called Love
Author: Maurene Goo
Published: May 30th, 2017

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Byr)


I have mixed feelings about this book. Sure, it made me laugh, and had a lot of heartwarming moments, but it also made me remember why I don’t usually read YA contemporaries. It wasn’t even on my TBR, although, as you know, sometimes you need a dose of romcom to leave the world outside and forget what a mess everything is around you.

After reading this book, at first, I didn’t know what to think of it. But I knew I couldn’t say I loved it, nor that I hated it. It had some good things, but an equal amount of moments I wish it didn’t. Let’s go by parts.

Desi Lee, the heroine, is a funny, lovely girl with a bit of a dork in her. She made me laugh out loud, and overall, she was a good character to read about. But sometimes I just couldn’t help but wanting to slap her in the face, because, for such an academic overachiever, she was not using her head. Still, I loved the relationship with her dad, even more than the actual romance. It’s nice to see how they only have each other, and, unlike in many other YA books, the relationship is pretty healthy. There’s mutual support and love, instead of a toxic “no, dad, it’s just you don’t understand me” kind of relationship. Thank you, Maurene Goo!

But, aside from that, I think Desi’s overall behaviour made me see her more in need of a therapist than a boyfriend. I honestly don’t know why is such a big deal to be seventeen, and never having had a boyfriend. The fact of having (or not) a relationship doesn’t make you a better or worse person, and if you can’t see that… well, try. I promise it’s worthy. Desi has a ton of other achievements and talents, she’s smart and wants to become a doctor. But no, she never had a boyfriend, so that makes her a failure. Right. Wonderful. And when she meets Luka Drakos, her control-freak attitude leads to an obsession that becomes almost psycho, to the point of causing nothing short of a car accident, just because she wants him to walk her home afterwards. If that’s not going too far, then I don’t know what is. Getting Luka as her boyfriend becomes her everything, and not so much because of her feelings for him, but because she can’t tolerate not being good at flirting, in despite of being top of her class, and amazing in every other area. I mean, she joins the Art Club just because Luka is there, in despite that she doesn’t like painting nor drawing, and even when it is Luka’s passion, she doesn’t try to appreciate art to at least get a glimpse of how he sees things, completely focused on getting him. And, in my opinion, a part of getting to know one another in a relationship is showing genuine interest in what the other one loves, and trying to see things through their perspective, for a lot more reasons than just snagging him/her.

Plus, Luka left impossibly clearer that he doesn’t want a girlfriend. He doesn’t! And it’s not your job to force him to like you just because you know you are not like his ex, and would never do anything to hurt him. That, other than being something he has to discover by himself, is what being friends is for. It’s not up to you to make him change his mind. Plus, honestly, guys, there’s nothing wrong in not finding the love of your life at seventeen, you know?

A very good thing, that many times gets glossed over –or plainly ignored– in YA books, is that both Desi and Luka have plans and dreams for their lives that go beyond their high school experience. Even though Desi misses her interview, she still gets the chance to study to become a doctor, and manages to balance it with her personal life, instead of just quitting because she didn’t get into the school she wanted; and Luka gets his scholarship to follow his passion, which, considering the number of books out there that focus on teens, their horniness and their making out sessions, with very little plot points and details, it’s a positive aspect. Bravo, Maurene Goo!

As I said earlier, I liked Desi’s relationship with her dad, with zero drama and mutual support and understanding, as they moved on from the loss they suffered, together. But that aspect got soon compensated by Luka’s backstory. Same as with Desi, I overall liked him, but not so much. He’s this brooding guy who thinks himself misunderstood by the rest of world, with art dreams, but other than that, he’s not interested in anything else (besides Desi, that is). He lives in this kind of dark, little bubble, from which Desi helps him get out. And I felt it was a little hypocrite from him to complain that his father isn’t interested in him or his art, when in fact, Luka himself is not that much interested in bonding with him, either. You can’t blame another person for not doing something you are not doing yourself in the first place! Logic, please. However, I do understand how art became his refuge, the place he goes when he can’t deal with his situation anymore. That is well done.

Something I really liked were those moments in which she dropped the act and got to be authentic, doing things that weren’t in her K drama schedule, and yet, were the most meaningful ones, like when she’s drawing with the kids, or cooking at home with Luka and her dad. Those situations made her look real, with zero stress over her love life, instead of coming from a carefully planned scheme. And yet, she didn’t learn anything from that, keeping up the K drama charade until the very end. And that bothered me very much. I absolutely hated that she decided to go for the damsel in distress situation, to get him back, letting herself fall in the pool, ruining her dress, and almost drowning Luka in the process. It’s such an immature thing, really. Because even after the whole K drama steps ended up breaking both her heart, and Luka’s, Desi still didn’t drop the act, keeping it up to the last minute. Didn’t she realise that it was what got her in trouble in the first place? I know she loved Luka and all, and I know she wanted a chance to explain herself, but, in my opinion, placing herself in such position wasn’t exactly the best way to do it. I honestly thought that she, being so smart and having so many resources thanks to her own efforts, wouldn’t be desperate to the point of defining her value by Luka liking her or not.

As for the other characters in this book, there’s really not a lot to say about them. Emily Fairchild, Luka’s ex-girlfriend, is the fullest cliché stereotype I’ve ever read. Blonde, beautiful, social media-obsessed, with lots of followers… Completely self-absorbed. Desi assumes all kind of things about her when she checks her online profiles, and when she finally shows up, she is exactly what she thought. There’s no room for possibilities there. I thought that her prejudice would be proved wrong, but Emily is exactly the selfish, pretty girl Desi guesses she is from her pictures, without really knowing her at all. And that, honestly, isn’t fair. In my opinion, that kind of thing creates a huge contradiction. Nowadays, everyone looks for diversity in literature, and get angry or disappointed if there’s not an accurate representation, this being people of colour, cultural differences, disability, members of the LGBT community, and so on, so authors definitely have to get that right. But on the other hand, there’s things like this one, placing all the pretty girls under the selfish, vain banner, and I don’t see anyone complaining about that.

Just sayin’, guys, and it’s ok if you disagree.

Anyway, let’s go to Wes and Fiona, Desi’s best friends. They are there for her in her romantic misadventures, but they are basically background noise, just like this girl, Violet Choi, who used to study Korean with Desi when they were children, and is a character I could erase from the book, with little to no disruption on the plot. And, again, perhaps it’s just me, but I think that making a character diverse is the only purpose authors have when they write one. As I said, it’s like the representation HAS to be there, so they create characters that don’t do much for the story itself, but yes, they are diverse. And I felt that was the case with Fiona, who is both gay and Latina, and, just like Emily, felt stereotyped, because when they go to her house, her grandmother is making tacos, and not once it was said Fiona was Mexican. For what we know, she could be anything: Belizean, Honduran, Salvadoran, Puerto-Rican, Costa-Rican, Cuban, Guatemalan... There’s an entire continent with unique countries she could come from, being a Latina. But she’s only referenced as that, and perhaps, only perhaps, Mexican. And being Latin is way wider than just a couple of cliched traits (and dishes, for that matter). I’m not angry at it, I just wish her character could have been a little more accurate about it, instead of going down the obvious, zero-effort path.

As for Wes, other than posing as Desi’s boyfriend in that party she only went to make Luka jealous, he doesn’t do much, and gets Violet as his girlfriend by the end of the book. I wish I could have cared a lot more for them, but I can’t do it if I don’t really know the people I’m reading about. Sorry.

So, in short, I Believe in a Thing Called Love is a funny, fluffy and somewhat predictable book, that will help you get your mind off things, and if you like to watch K dramas, all the better. It’s like one of them, in book form.

Thanks for stopping by!
See you soon!


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