In Frankly in Love by David Yoon, Frank Li straddles two worlds: the world he knows, being an ultra-smart and awkward teenage boy born and raised in Southern California and Frank Li, son of two Korean immigrants who came to America so their children would have better (and more) chances in life. Frank barely speaks any Korean and his parents aren’t the stereotypical helicopter parents, pushing him to make excellent grades and to be the best in everything.
Frank’s already getting straight A’s and is headed to a college far away. As much as he loves his parents and his Southern California upbringing, he wants to get far enough away to see who he really is. All his life he hasn’t felt Korean enough or American enough. It’s like he floats in some vicious limbo where he’s not enough of either. He can go away to college and just be Frank Li. But he has to get through his senior year first.
And while his parents don’t force Frank to be all Korean, the one rule is he has to date and eventually marry a Korean girl. There’s just one problem: Frank Li falls in love with Brit, a white girl. Frank’s older sister is a lawyer in Boston. She’s been disowned by their parents because her boyfriend is black. They refuse to speak to her.
Along with living in a cultural limbo, Frank also lives in a limbo where his parents are casual racists. Frank’s best friend is black and while they’ve always been polite to him, it’s been a cool and aloof polite. There’s no way his parents would accept Frank being in love with a white girl. And the equally horrible (but relatable) thing is Frank doesn’t explain this to Brit, how his parents want him to be with a Korean girl. The only way Frank can bring Brit around to see his parents is if he invites a group of friends over and pretends she’s just a friend.
And then Frank comes up with a seemingly foolproof plan: he’s going to pretend to date a Korean girl while actually dating Brit. He knows the perfect Korean girl. Joy Song. She and Frank have grown up together and he happens to know for a fact that she’s in a similar situation: she’s dating a Japanese boy her parents would forbid her from seeing if they only knew.
Frank explains the plan to her, and she agrees. Both of their families think they’re dating. Whenever Frank and Joy go out on a date, they make sure their parents see them together before they go their separate ways with their taboo loves for the evening and then meet back up to make a show of having been busy in love all night.
Meanwhile Frank is finding out that Brit is his first love and it’s overwhelming. He wants to tell her his plan, that he’s fake dating Joy for his parents’ approval but something keeps his mouth shut. Unfortunately, it’s about to get even more complicated for Frank when he finds himself falling in love with Joy.
At turns hilarious and heart breaking, David Yoon’s Frankly in Love is a novel about first love, belonging, family, and future. It’s about choosing what’s best for yourself while still loving your family and knowing you’re loved by them.