Frankly in Love by David Yoon (9781984812209)
Frank Li’s parents expect him to date only Korean-American girls. They make racist comments about all other races, even though Frank’s best friend Q is black. So when Frank breaks the rules and starts dating Brit, a white girl, he has to come up with a cover story. That’s where Joy comes in, she is a fellow Korean-American also caught in her families rules and she is also dating a non-Korean. So the two of them create a system where they pretend to date one another while actually dating other people. It’s the perfect plan until it falls apart as Frank learns what love is. Meanwhile, Frank’s family faces health issues and violence. Frank realizes that while his family may never understand him, he loves and needs them in his life.
Yoon has created one of the hottest YA titles of the fall. To my delight, it’s popular for a reason. Yoon’s frank exploration of racism both societal and within one family is refreshingly honest, not ever ducking away from difficult and deep conversations. The interplay of that and other serious topics with an almost rom com escapade of fake dating makes for an intoxicating mix.
Frank Li (whose name is a delight) is a wonderful protagonist. He is immensely smart and not overly naive. His personal take on his heritage and culture grows and changes throughout the novel in an organic way. There are no easy answers offered here, no final moment of clarity. Instead it is all about growth and the ability to understand one another and find connection, even after it has been damaged or severed.
A great teen novel that is a marvelous mix of romance and depth. Appropriate for ages 13-18.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Putnam.
Spirit Hunters by Ellen Oh (9780062430083, Amazon)
Harper and her family have moved to Washington DC after she was injured during her stay at a hospital. Harper has no memory of how her injuries happened, but they may be the key to understanding the family’s new house. Harper’s little brother has been acting strangely since they moved in, speaking to an imaginary friend and then becoming almost another person. As Harper makes a new friend in the neighborhood, the two of them start researching what happened in the house in the past and discovering that the threatening presence that Harper feels in the house may be a ghost! In fact, Harper may be one of the special people who can sense ghosts in the world, but she has to figure out how to do so safely and who to trust with her secret.
Oh is the founder of We Need Diverse Books. She has crafted here a middle grade novel that has Korean-American main characters and uses their culture skillfully as an important part of the story and the solution to their haunting issues. She has also created a book that is pure scary fun. This is not a serious book about diversity and modern society, but instead a romp of delightful scares that make the book real fun to read.
The lightness of the book will have young readers loving it. Oh allows the young protagonist and her siblings and friends to be the real heroes of the book, even as the dangers they face grow in size. The pace of the book is key to its success as well, as Oh allows it to pick up pace towards the ending, controlling it just enough but also allowing it to get wild and zany.
A great pick for fans of Ghostbusters or scary stories, I look forward to more adventures with these characters. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.
A Piece of Home by Jeri Watts, illustrated by Hyewon Yum (InfoSoup)
Hee Jun loved living in Korea where he fit in with his classmates at school and his grandmother was a respected teacher. She was also able to have an extraordinary garden there. When his father moves them to West Virginia, everything changes. Hee Jun does not fit in with his classmates due to the way he looks and the way he talks. His grandmother too is different, her inner spark gone. His little sister has problems at school too, taking out her fear physically on her teacher. So their grandmother is asked to go to school with her. Slowly, the family begins to find their place in West Virginia, even discovering a beloved flower with a new name.
Watts tells the story of immigration with an eye towards giving people time to adjust and find their footing both with a new language and a new culture. The sense of loss for the characters is palpable on the page, eliciting a real understanding of the immense change they are undergoing. The little sister’s violent reaction to school is handled with sensitivity and understanding, offering the grandmother a chance to connect with her new surroundings. The entire book is filled with deep emotions combined with a gentle nurturing attitude.
Yum’s illustrations are done in watercolor. They show a loving family that manages to thrive despite the changes. The differences between their lives in Korea and West Virginia are shown on the page, particularly with regards to the grandmother and her vibrant life in Korea compared to her lonely existence in the first weeks in the United States.
A strong and thoughtful look at immigration that beautifully explains the huge changes children undergo as they move to a new country. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
What Will You Be, Sara Mee? by Kate Aver Avraham, illustrated by Anne Sibley O’Brien
Sara Mee is about to celebrate her first birthday. For Korean Americans, that means that she will participate in a special game called toljabee which will predict what she will be when she grows up. Her older brother Chong can’t wait to see what items she will pick from the table. But first there is plenty of preparation for the big day, including special clothes for Sara Mee, great food, and music. When the time for the game comes, Chong is allowed to help set the items before Sara Mee. What will she pick?
Part of the specialness of this book is the depiction of the extended Korean family, some who still live in Korea and others who live in the United States. There are grandparents, aunts, uncles, and more who bring the event and the book to life, filling it with faces and noise. Avraham’s text is sprinkled with Korean words and written in a light tone that invites the reader into this family get-together. O’Brien’s art is done in ink and watercolor. The smiles on all of the faces as well as the use of bright colors really create a book filled with joy.
A welcome book about Korean Americans and traditions, this book should find a place on library shelves across the country. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.