Review by Piyali C.
Frank Li is a senior in high school, growing up in Southern California. He is a first generation Korean American, trying to find his identity in this world. Is he considered Korean, even though he does not speak the language and has never visited that country? Is he fully American and does the world consider him so? He has grown up accompanying his immigrant parents to their monthly gatherings with other Korean families and hanging out with other first-generation Korean children, who, like Frank, are struggling to find where they belong. They call themselves Limbo. Some of the Korean children have embraced the country where they were born, while others retain the culture and language of the country from which their parents emigrated. There is a big divide even between the first- generation Korean Americans. Frank is very aware of his parents’ blatant racism and knows he is doomed if he dates any girl outside his ethnicity. As luck would have it, he falls in love with Brit Means. Brit is beautiful, smart, kind – and she is white. Frank has to conspire with fellow Limbo, Joy Sung, who is in the same predicament. They decide to pretend-date each other to make their parents happy while continuing to see their respective partners of choice. But how long can this ruse last?
The protagonist of the book is an eighteen year old, and the book primarily explores his self identity and where he belongs,. However, I feel this book provides valuable insight, for adult readers along with teens, into the immigrant community in this country (or anywhere) where the immigrants struggle to find the balance between holding on to the culture of their birth country while trying to assimilate in their adopted country. The struggle becomes extremely poignant for first generation Americans, as is highlighted in this novel.
David Yoon does a tremendous job of exploring the issues of race and identity in this novel while keeping the narrative light. The voice of the narrator, a somewhat confused, sometimes lovelorn, and mostly empathetic senior in high school, is authentic. While we live Frank Li’s life vicariously and shudder at the blatantly racist comments that his parents utter, we also examine our own biases regarding race and racial identity. Told in a partly eloquent, partly colloquial voice, this book really satisfies the need for a light yet thought provoking read.
Piyali is an instructor and research specialist at HCLS Miller Branch, where she co-facilitates both Global Reads and Strictly Historical Fiction.