Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5
Genre: Realistic fiction/romance
What did you like about the book? Sunny Dae is a massive nerd, holing up on weekends with his two (and only) best friends to dream up LARP special-effects props and create how-to videos for their 100 fellow-nerd followers. Things change when his loving but workaholic parents introduce him to recent arrival Cirrus, who has moved to the U.S. with her high-flying Korean parents. Cirrus is so cute and sophisticated that Sunny takes a right turn at the top of his stairs into estranged brother Gray’s abandoned rock-and-roll sanctuary and chooses to present himself as a guitar god instead of a geek. He starts sneaking Gray’s cool rags into his backpack and changing at school, and even manages to convince his BFFs Milo and Jamal to start a fake band with him, practicing and winning a spot in the school talent show. When the prodigal son Gray comes home, the artifice begins to wobble and as any devoted rom-com fan knows, there definitely will be a moment of reckoning when Sunny will have to make peace with who he really wants to be.
Yoon triumphed in Frankly in Love and shines here in a more fun and frivolous outing. Although the cast of characters are almost entirely BIPAC (with the exception of a converted bully who becomes a new friend), their ethnicity is part of their character instead of the point of the story. The dialogue sparkles and the sense of loyalty and emotional honesty between Sunny and his crew of guy friends is refreshing. The author’s descriptive powers really immersed me into whatever setting he’s describing: a slightly out-of-control teen party, a first kiss, a high school lunchroom, all finely rendered and loaded with detail that never feels overwhelming. Shout out for the adorable cover art and ingenious end papers (which feature a D & D map facsimile of “The Mystical Realms of Southern California”).
Anything you didn’t like about it? Readers who loved the focus on immigrants’ generational differences in Frankly won’t find that here. Sunny’s parents are kind, but pretty fuzzy, and their estrangement from Gray and his obvious depression seem underdeveloped. Likewise, Cirrus has some unfortunate pixie dream girl qualities and lacks edge, although a scene in which she and Sonny unpack and examine souvenirs from her nomadic life was quite poignant.
To whom would you recommend this book? Anyone looking for an escapist, romantic outing told from the guy’s point of view will enjoy this book. I certainly welcomed its southern California vibe in the middle of my cloudy New England weekend! Fans of John Green or Becky Albertalli would be a natural audience. Although one wild party does feature underage drinking, the book is pretty tame as far as misbehavior goes and would be fine for grades 8 and up.
Who should buy this book? High schools and public libraries
Where would you shelve it? Young adult
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Yes. This lightweight but heartfelt novel is the kind of book a lot of teens (and adult YA fans) are looking for right now!
Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA
Date of review: February 7, 2021