I Believe in a Thing Called Love
I used to be hooked on Korean dramas. I would stay up late watching them, foregoing sleep for one more episode. For a while, they were all I wanted to watch, and when I heard that Maurene Goo had a Young Adult book coming out that featured K-dramas, I was instantly sold. Unfortunately, I Believe in a Thing Called Love did not have the same engrossing quality as the shows themselves.
If you aren’t familiar with K-dramas, I would describe them as Korean language soap operas. They over the top, outrageous, and not at all reflections of real life. Over the course of ten to twenty-four hour-long episodes, the same poor high school girl could get kidnapped, suffer from amnesia, take an exotic vacation, and still have to show up to her four part-time jobs. There is something about the formulaic silliness that draws you in, though. Much like a romance novel, you know a happy ending is coming and that’s the payoff for these beleaguered characters.
In I Believe in a Thing Called Love, Desi decides she will watch K-dramas and try to glean a life plan from the formula. She creates K-drama steps for finding love: a tragic backstory, get in a life-threatening situation, and share the perfect kiss. Her past attempts at teenage love have all been disastrous, and she thinks her steps will guide her to the perfect happy ending. She has the perfect target for the plan, a new student named Luca. He is handsome and into art and other than that, is mostly a mystery to Desi. She makes it her goal to win him over using the K-drama steps.
Goo’s authorial voice is fantastic, and I was drawn in by the fast pace of the story and Desi’s clearly defined character. The book lost me because I’m not the biggest fan of the storyline where the girl obsessively pursues the guy at all costs. Desi even goes so far as to try and stage a car wreck so she and Luca can spend more time around each other. Given the K-drama influence, I’m willing to overlook how unrealistic that might be (or how a girl doing that doesn’t send the guy running in the opposite direction.) The thing is, Luca never seems interested in Desi. She joins art club to be near him, and he just wanders off. They end up at the same party where she attempts to make him jealous, and he just wanders off. I felt like she was wearing herself out to catch his attention and he would not be caught. If Desi had been my friend I would have told her that he was just not interested in her and she should move on.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a romance (or K-drama) if Luca didn’t get interested in Desi eventually. At some point, he is suddenly head over heels for her, and by that time I was disillusioned with him and the two of them as a couple. Their chemistry was nil and I felt that Desi had manipulated the situation beyond repair and I wasn’t rooting for them. I also won’t give away what happens towards the end, but I will say that I felt that some of Desi’s drive diminishes due to Luca and she compromises her future goals for him. This is believable, especially for a teen, but it just made me sad. All of who Desi is as a character is based on her determination to be the best in school, sports, extracurricular activities etc. so she could go to Stanford and become a doctor like her late mother. She lost sight of that for Luca, and it seemed that the story rewarded her for this behavior.
In the end, the sharp writing and engaging voice wasn’t enough to save I Believe in a Thing Called Love. The main focus of the story is the romance, and since that falls flat, the only thing that could have saved it would have been to see Desi be the awesome lady I thought she could be, but that doesn’t happen either. It is still a fun read, but don’t expect to be emotionally invested.