Hi Virtually Readers! Shar and I recently read I Believe in a Thing Called Love, a contemporary YA book about a girl who tries to get the guy of her dreams by following steps gleaned from K-drama. Neither of us watch K-Drama, but that’s not an obstacle to enjoyment of the book—everything is pretty well explained, and it’s entertaining even if you don’t know the tropes. We thought we’d review it together because co-reviews are fun. Shanti is normal type, Shar is italics.
Shanti: First, I think the best thing about this book was that Desi was very ordinary.
Shar: No, she wasn’t! She was school council president, a varsity soccer and tennis player, valedictorian, popular, part of all sorts of clubs, and general overachiever. What annoyed me is that while she should have been ridiculously overcommitted, she spent all her time trying to get the guy and all her extracurriculars (and doing homework, etc.) weren’t really part of the story.
Shanti: Okay, well, what I meant was that in terms of appearance and insecurities, Desi was fairly ordinary.
Yes! I really liked a line that went something like ‘I adjusted my shirt so my belly roll wasn’t visible’ because #relatable.
She’s also quite awkward—at least around boys—which was very endearing (and relatable!). The book does choose to selectively focus on her relationships more than her other achievements; I didn’t mind it as it was but perhaps everything else could have been better incorporated into the story. I loved her friendships with Fiona and Wes. They were so kind and supportive to each other, even when Desi was being ridiculous (which was quite often).
Shar: Yeah, like all the time. I kind of felt like Desi, who was clearly not dumb, should have realized that everything (or a lot of the things) she was trying to do to get Luca to date her were completely ludicrous. However, as she says in the prologue, she’s totally determined that if she works hard she can get what she wants, even a boyfriend, and I thought this personality aspect worked really well for her character, along with the other themes of the book. I also liked the theme of her learning that she can’t control everything, because I can also be a bit of a control freak.
Shanti: I think that made sense for her as a character. In some ways, because everything is laid out in the steps at the start, the book is quite predictable. However, I liked how it was sort of a K-drama within a K-Drama; as Desi carries out the (decidedly demented) steps, the narrative keeps rolling, so that sacrifice and betrayal are almost inevitable. Maureen Goo clearly really likes K-dramas and that unapologetic celebration of Korean culture was delightful (and made me want to try a K-drama for myself). Desi tries to stop following the steps, but at that point the narrative she has decided to follow just keeps going. The way that tropes manifested, explicitly (e.g. Desi being aware that she was thinking in a flashback) and implicitly (e.g. manufactured accident turns into a real accident) gives some weight to the book.
Shar: That was really interesting, and maybe we should watch some K-dramas together (IBIATCL gives plenty of ideas). But I certainly had some problems with the story. Firstly, I didn’t really ship Desi with Luca. He just felt like a really flat character, partly because Desi was so into him from the very beginning and so we never fully got to know him. Like, he has fights with his father, and then is like ‘Desi, your relationship with your dad made me want to fight less’ which makes very little sense. (Side note: I really liked Desi’s relationship with her dad. They were really close which was just AWWW.) Anyway, for whatever reason, probably Desi’s infatuation and the manufactured feel of their relationship (even though you can’t manufacture feelings, really), I just didn’t ship it. Considering this book is a romance, this was not a good thing.
Shanti: Eh, we don’t have time to watch TV shows. Like you, I loved Desi’s dad, but Luca just wasn’t very interesting. There was nothing much to distinguish him from any other sympathetic YA hero with a past. He was considerate, he was arty, he challenged Desi in various ways; but he just wasn’t that special. I didn’t really care about him. But I liked how as a whole, IBIATCL advocated genuine romance (just like K-dramas), based on mutual support and caring for each other and honesty. That made the ending perfect for me. Overall, I would probably give this 3.5 stars, because I loved the character of Desi and her friends and family—and of course, the inevitable drama.
Shar: I’d give it 3 stars. I liked the concept and the themes, but the romance was not that interesting. However, it’s got some serious Lara Jean vibes (Korean character+romantic+ single father) [Shanti: and there are few enough Korean characters in YA that these two will get compared while all the white protags with similar interests don’t], and I’d recommend it to anyone who loves YA romances, K-dramas, or books about overachievers. If you’re interested in a very realistic YA book about an overachieving Korean, I’d recommend my favourite Good Enough by Paula Yoo.
So Virtually Readers, have you read this one? What did you think? What’s a ridiculous book you’ve read lately? tell us in the comments!