Seoulmates is the conclusion to the story begun in Heart and Seoul. I strongly recommend reading the books in order, since events in this volume build upon what happened in the first novel.
When Hara travelled to Seoul, it was with the sole intent of finding her birth mother. As a Korean adoptee, she had long been made to feel like an outsider in her mostly white midwestern community and she longed for that sense of belonging conferred by looking like everyone else around. She steps off the plane and falls in love with the first man she meets, Choi Yujun. He is everything she has ever wanted in a lover – intelligent, gorgeous, kind, decent, wealthy, hardworking, compassionate. He is also her step-brother. Finding her mother turns out to be something of a disaster since it means the relationship she has built with Yujun needs to end. A love affair between step-siblings is deeply frowned upon in Korean culture and they will face nothing but opposition if they try to stay together.
But Hara and Yujun are deeply in love, so they determine to weather the disapproval of all Yujun’s friends and family. That determination is being put to the test at the start of Seoulmates since Yujun works for Hara’s birthmother Wansu, who is opposed to their connection and sends Yujun on a long international sales trip in order to get him away from Hara and force them to break up.
Hara is miserable without Yujun. Not only does she miss him because he’s her beloved but she’s unhappy in her situation in general. She doesn’t speak Korean very well and working at her mother’s huge, successful IF Corporation means people hate her, not just because of the language barrier but because she is a nepotistic hire who can’t work as part of the team and has a highly coveted position which should have gone to a “worthy” Korean. Hara and Wansu aren’t really making progress in growing closer and getting to know each other. Wansu buys Hara many gifts and eats dinner with her most nights but she also makes it very clear that she expects the relationship with Yujun to end., which has put a pause to any growing intimacy between them. Hara has three good friends – Jules, Bomi and Ahn Sangki, aka DJ Song, a Korean pop star- who make life more bearable, but who also assure Hara that Wansu is right and she and Yujun will never be accepted into Korean society.
When Yujun finally comes home, all is well in Hara’s world. Or would be, but it turns out that love does not conquer all and some of Yujun’s friends start to snub him as a result of his relationship with her. Certain family members make it clear they want nothing to do with either of them. Hara’s co-workers grow even colder and meaner and Wansu is increasingly determined they should split up. Hara finds herself questioning all her choices. She loves Yujun with all her heart and soul but she wants to bring joy to his life, not trouble; she wanted to develop a strong relationship with her birth mom and that’s not what’s happening. Should she just go back to the States and forget all about her Korean adventure? Or should she fight for what she wants?
While Seoulmates is billed as a romance novel, it is more chick-lit or women’s fiction in style because there is less of a an emphasis on the relationship with Yujun and more of a focus on the pivotal decisions facing Hara. She has to determine where she wants to build a life – Korea or Iowa -, what kind of life she wants to build, and who she wants to people that life with, The author does a really great job of showing us why these decisions aren’t easy for her and taking us through all the steps Hara goes through to figure out just what she should do. The novel perfectly captures Hara’s very real desire for a sense of belonging, something she has never quite had. Her adoptive mother Ellen loves Hara deeply and is a great support, but her adoptive father’s family has always made it clear Hara isn’t their kin. Now a different but equally painful type of rejection is happening with Yujun’s family and Hara isn’t sure she wants to put the two of them through that.
Hara also adores Korea and the author does a nice job of showing us why, The beauty of the nation – its food, customs, geography and culture – are all very lovingly depicted, The author’s greatest feat is showing us the dark side of the country – racial prejudice, rejection of the LGBTQ+ community, the emphasis on bringing honor to the family – while still helping us fall in love with it,
Hara and Yujun’s love story is a bright spot in a tale that could easily be lost to all the problems Hara is facing, but while it is sweet and joyful it is also a bit unbelievable. There is never a clash of cultures between the couple, and Yujun never struggles with the many sacrifices he will be making to be with Hara. It feels too pat and saccharine and practically screamed ‘fiction!’ while I was reading it.
The story also has a very trite and contrived ending. Many threads – especially one between Hara and a coworker – are resolved with absolutely no buildup to that resolution. Everything concludes in a manner needed for an HEA and none of it feels true to life.
In fairness, many readers pick up romance novels/women’s fiction/chick-lit in search of an escape from reality and Seoulmates definitely provides that. It also does a lovely job of capturing falling in love in and with Korea and excellently captures that sense of being torn between two cultures and not being a perfect fit in either, yet finding your home in the people you love. I would recommend it to someone looking for a light read that has a lot of heart to it.
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I've been an avid reader since 2nd grade and discovered romance when my cousin lent me Lord of La Pampa by Kay Thorpe in 7th grade. I currently read approximately 150 books a year, comprised of a mix of Young Adult, romance, mystery, women's fiction, and science fiction/fantasy.