I BELIEVE IN A THING CALLED LOVE by Maurene Goo // K-dramas + Stanford + Staged Car Crashes = An Amazing Story 🤣❤️
I never thought I would find a book like this.
A book that combines K-pop + a girl who wants to get into Stanford + staged car crashes???
Of course I finished it in three days during a school week with four tests on the Friday! OF COURSE I DID.
What novel am I referring to?
It’s Maurene Goo’s lovely novel, I Believe in a Thing Called Love!
I found it really hard to put this book down throughout the week because not only was it very entertaining, but it was also hilarious. I felt so happy every time I opened this book up. I’ve been reading a lot of nonfiction novels recently, so having this sweet and short contemporary at hand throughout last week was a nice break from reading facts all the time. 😊
(I’m saying it was a nice break from facts because there is no way someone would devise a formula for how love works in K-dramas to use IRL and follow it through like Desi —
Well, at least, I hope not… 😅😆)
I Believe in a Thing Called Love follows our Korean American main character, Desi Lee, who is basically amazing at everything in life except flirting. Her friends actually call her a flailure because she’s a failure at flirting — haha, get it? 🤣 When Desi suddenly gets new motivation to conquer her romantic blunders because of a new character that enters the scene, she decides to use Korean dramas to create a formula for how to make two people fall in love, and, of course, applies the list to her own life. The list may or may not work, and the ending may or may not be what you expect — you’ll have to read the book to find out. 😉
As usual, this book chat will have a nonspoilery section first, then a spoilery section right after. Let’s dive right into the
The Asian-ness of This Book… YES
Ah, the sly Korean deflection of complimenting their own children by warping it into a criticism instead. (Goo 232)
I went into this book excited to see how K-dramas would intertwine with the story, but I had no idea how pleased I would be with the abundance of little details about the Korean culture that Goo adds into Desi’s narration.
In fact, I already saw hints of this in the prologue when Desi calls her father “appa,” which is the Korean word for father, and receives “a tray of fish, rice, and beef radish soup” (Goo 4) from her father to eat.
Later in the story Desi has salty seaweed soup during lunch at school, and also mentions her father’s juk (죽), which reminded me of how similar some Korean words to are to Cantonese. Cantonese congee is pronounced jook (粥), which was why I understood what Desi was talking about before she explained the meaning of juk. I think it’s so cool how I can get these Korean cultural references in the novel even though I’m not Korean because of my immersion in another Asian culture. 😄👍🏼
But the similarities don’t end just with food — there’s much more. 😊
For example: Desi went to Korean school!
I hadn’t gone to Korean school since I was seven; I barely remembered all those Saturday afternoons spent at a church learning the Korean alphabet and such. (Goo 136)
I can definitely relate to Desi because I used to attend Saturday Chinese school to learn Mandarin. At the time, I did not appreciate going to Chinese school and wanted to instead do my own thing over the weekends, but I now realize how important it was for me to be exposed to the language as a child.
As far as I know in the story, though, Desi only knows a little Korean (she mentions that she communicates with her dad in meh Korean, and her dad back in meh English 😆) and has little contact with her Korean relatives in Korea. Though this means that Desi might be missing a lot of other aspects of the Korean culture in her life, this novel does a wonderful job in painting one example of how culture can affect a Korean American girl in the U.S. Obviously, growing up in the U.S. rather than Korea would result in Desi living a life where the American culture blended with the Korean culture. If Desi went to Korea, she might not understand every aspect of the Korean culture — but at the same time, her connections to the Korean culture sets her apart from what people might think of when they think of the classic American home.
Another example I have to add in here is the fact that Desi and her dad don’t wear shoes inside the house. I used to think this was just an Asian thing… but no. A lot of countries actually have a tradition of taking their shoes off before entering the house, but upon my observation, people don’t normally do that in the U.S. I’ve always taken my shoes off before entering my home or someone else’s, so when I realized that Desi and her dad did that too — round of applause and confetti. 👏🏼🎉👏🏼🎉👏🏼
I’m just saying, but we need more book characters who take off their shoes before going into their house. 👟 It’s so rare to find YA book characters who do this.
In the end, the intricate details Goo adds within the novel about how the Korean culture intertwines with Desi’s life made this story unique and breathed this sense of life and reality into Desi’s character. I don’t know if I would have enjoyed this book as much as I did if there wasn’t the addition of the Korean culture in the story, but luckily there are plenty of references in the novel. I loved every nod and mention of juk, not wearing shoes inside the house, and kimchi that popped up in this wonderful book. 😄
You Might Find Desi Relatable If You’re a Hard Worker 💪😊
I believe, and still believe, that you can build your dreams brick by brick. That you can accomplish anything with persistence. (Goo 7)
Sure, Desi might take it to the extreme and extensively study K-dramas to create a list to get a guy to fall in love with her, buuuut the fact still remains that Desi is really motivated to succeed. She doesn’t just think about what she wants to do — she actually does it. It’s really easy to just think about all the things you want to do, but the hardest thing about anything, really, is starting it. That’s the case with exercising, writing an essay, or creating art.
I did wish Goo focused more on explaining this aspect of Desi’s character, but all I got was this one miniscule but sweet moment in the book where Desi shares that she wasn’t that good at a lot of things in the past — it was persistence and hard work that allowed her to become amazing at soccer, be the student body president, and, for this story, create the “K Drama Steps to True Love” list. 📝
If there’s something I want to take from Desi’s character, it wouldn’t be her list (no way 🙃), but rather her motivation to work hard and achieve her dreams. Actually doing instead of thinking about doing things is how she succeeded in life, and I think that’s a pretty good mentality and attitude to have, especially if you have a lot of long-term goals. 👍🏼
Lastly, to wrap up the nonspoilery section…
This Novel is Definitely Clichéd, But It Works
Yeah, [K-dramas] could be formulaic, downright cliched at times, but with the strong characters, it all worked. Characters that you rooted for, that you hated with the heat of a thousand suns, that you crushed on hard-core, that you envied, that you cared about. They were more real than anything the Oscars served up. (Goo 42)
I loved reading this book — it was hilarious, intertwined with aspects of the Korean culture, and involved K-dramas. However, after I finished this novel and thought more about the story, I realized how clichéd it was. A huge part of the book is based on the basic storyline of, boy walks into a girl’s classroom and suddenly the girl is so in love she needs to make a list to get the boy to fall in love with her??? Hmmmm… 🤔
Then again, I could argue that that’s exactly the point of the story. Desi mentions that K-dramas are very predictable and clichéd, but despite that, K-dramas are so fun to watch. This book felt a little like that for me — it’s kind of cheesy and a little bit of a cliché, but I still loved every second of reading it. I can’t ignore the fact that this story was a little bit more predictable than I would have liked, but the insight Goo gave me on what the experience of a Korean American girl could be like was something I appreciated reading about and will forever associate this book with 😊
Alright, that’s it for the nonspoilery section! If you haven’t read the book yet, remember to skip the spoilery section and comment below —
Does I Believe in a Thing Called Love appeal to you? Do you think you’ll add it to your TBR? Are there any books out there that combine K-dramas/K-pop + the Korean culture + an amazing lead character for an entertaining and fun story, or is this the first book involving those things that you’ve encountered?
Nonspoilery people, thanks for reading — but for those who have read the book, here are some quick thoughts I have on the deeper aspects of the story 😊:
🍦 The Spoilery Section! 🍦
Do I Agree With Desi’s Ways?
I know I mentioned above that I loved reading this book, but that doesn’t mean I necessarily approved of everything that happened in the novel, especially when I think back to Desi’s actions. First of all, I think that the K-drama list was absolutely ridiculous. The list itself was an entertaining and creative idea, but the fact that Desi actually followed through with it… I did end up siding with Luca when he found Desi’s list and got upset with her.
Honestly, if I were in his situation, I wouldn’t just be mad — I would also be super creeped out. If I take Desi’s list and actions and try to think about it happening in reality, I would view it as manipulative, kinda insane, and, uh, very strange. 😅
Basically, the list and the romance works as a fictional story. I enjoyed this book because I didn’t judge it too much as I was reading it, but once I finished it, wow. A lot of what I felt like were reasonable criticisms of the novel rushed into my mind like a sink faucet was just turned on.
Desi lied a lot in the novel during her conversations with Luca. One of the earliest lies was on her love of art. Despite the fact that she’s never dabbled in drawing, she shamelessly tells Luca that she’s always wanted to draw because she wants to follow through with the list. Now, I understand that Desi is a very determined person and believes that following through with the list will guarantee Luca’s love for her, but if we’re talking about true love, shouldn’t the foundation for that not consist of flat, outright lies?
In the end, the romance between Luca and Desi felt very strange to me. It didn’t felt natural, and their characters didn’t click together like other brilliant characters that I’ve shipped in other novels. (e.g. Inej and Kaz from Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows? *faints* 😍) They lacked the tension that I always love reading about, as well as the sense that they’re really right for each other — like they could have seen each other across the world in a completely different setting and still feel inclined to get to know each other more.
A lot of these shaky aspects of my interpretation of Desi and Luca’s relationship probably stemmed from the fact that Desi forced a lot of events to happen. I mean, come on — the staged car crash, floating a boat out into the open seas, joining the art club — it all felt like Desi was slowly losing parts of herself just to get her and Luca together.
Then again, was Desi a strong character in the first place? 🤔
She’s brilliant at many things, and she certainly has a large storage of motivation, but is she passionate about anything? That was most vital aspect of Desi’s character that I felt like was lacking, and thus made me feel very detached from her. I can trace most of the things I do in life to a feeling of passion for the activity or hobby of mine. I’m writing this blog post now, for example, because I love writing about books and breaking down my thoughts on stories. While Desi’s accomplishments may number as many, she never mentions anything about where her motivation stems from. If it’s not passion, is it just the desire to be good at everything she can? I would have loved it if Goo expanded more on why Desi is so driven to succeed, and whether Desi is actually passionate about the things she does.
Some Other Quick Thoughts…
- The antagonism from Violet made no sense to me— it just didn’t seem realistic. Again, she felt a little bit like a cliché and like she was a part of the story just to create conflict between Desi and Luca — and introduce that Desi went to Korean school.
- There is friendship in this novel, but it wasn’t very strong. Part of that was because Desi was so caught up in chasing after Luca with her list that she didn’t devote much time for her friends. She basically used Wes as a prop to get Luca to feel jealous, and I don’t agree with that manipulative method, but meh. The story’s over now. 🙂
- And, adding on to that, Desi definitely was very self-centered throughout the story. Everything was about her, which makes sense because she’s the main character of the story, but it would have been nice to see her care more about her friends’/classmates’ lives so I could have gotten a better idea of the community that she lives in.
If you’ve made it all the way through, thank you so much for reading this book chat! I hope you enjoyed this review, and I will cya next time! 🤗🎉