By Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH
While each book for 2020 could address the concept of love in one form or another, there are two that directly confront the circumstances of romantic love. Those two texts are Frankly in Love (2019) by David Yoon and Cinderella Liberator (2019) by Rebecca Solnit. Both address love from a perspective a bit differently from what many might think of as the typical love story.
Cinderella Liberator introduces readers to “Ella”, who really does meet her fairy godmother and does indeed go to the ball. She then becomes friends with the prince, but doesn’t expect to be swept away by him or saved by him. She realizes that he is perhaps not the answer to her deepest sense of self and her own truth. She learns that she must save herself so as to live the life she wants to live. And along the way she helps to save others by being herself and standing up for what she believes. There are other Cinderella tales from across the world, and several who bring a feminist sensibility to the read. All would make great companion texts to Cinderella Liberator, a story for the 21st century, told in a humorous tone, and blends a very modern story with original illustrations from the late 19th century. What a delightful twist, and fun read!
And speaking of humor and delightful twists! Frankly in Love presents Frank Li, a second-generation Korean American who is compelled by his parents to think about dating only nice Korean American girls. The problem is that Frank Li has fallen in love with a white girl. But he and his friend Joy, who is also dating outside of their shared Korean culture, come up with a plan to fool both their families. They pretend to date each other. As Frank keeps up the pretense, he is surprised by his feelings, and his sense of his own identity as both Korean and American. Filled with humor, this is a wonderful read that has both the characters and readers thinking about love, what they REALLY know about it, and who they are as both individuals and as members of particular groups, pairs, or families. This book made me laugh at loud. It’s smart, well-written, and full of heart. It has garnered a number of honors including an Asian Pacific American Librarians Association Honor Book and a William C. Morris YA Debut Award Finalist.
Both Frankly in Love and Cinderella Liberator create situations that allow readers to question not only love, but identity. Both create space for readers to think deeply about what they might do to stay true to who they think they are, how they connect to those they love, and how humor can be a good way to temper their thinking. Reading these books as part of one text set would make for authentic dialogue about topics of love and identity that seem to continually confound, regardless of age.
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