YA – Love, Decoded

Yen, Jennifer. Love, Decoded. Razorbill, 2022. 978-0-593-11755-2. $18.99. 303 pp. Grades 7-10.

Love, Decoded by Jennifer Yen paints a world of Superbia, a Manhattan prep school, family life in a five-story brownstone with an elevator, and the fashionable and edible haunts of wealthy young New Yorkers that mixes Kevin Kwan’s Crazy, Rich Asians PG with Jane Austen’s Emma. Gigi Wong is a matchmaker-in-training with her Great-Aunt Rose in the backroom of her Chinatown shop, Rose and Jade. A computer coding whiz, sixteen-year-old Gigi convinces Auntie Rose to let her digitize some of the biodata on her clients. In first-person narration, Gigi describes her close friendship with next-door neighbor, Chinese and white, Kyle Miller; he is her confidante and go-to person, but nothing more (cue predictability). As a volunteer at the Suzuki Youth Center, the beautiful and magnanimous Gigi takes under her wing mentee, Etta, a Filipino-American scholarship student. Gigi learns to appreciate Etta’s exuberance and guilelessness and introduces her to a make over, exclusive restaurant openings, and demonstrations of privilege. In turn, Etta, an anime and video game aficionado, teaches Gigi how to use the subway, to buy clothes on a budget, and to appreciate the sacrifices Gigi’s chauffeur Fernando makes to be at the Wongs’ beck and call. Etta’s difficulty fitting in at Superbia also provides Gigi with the idea for her entry in a Junior Coding Contest. Using her novice matchmaking skills, Gigi enhances her program Quizlr into one that matches compatible friends. When former friend, Joey Kwan, returns from Singapore looking new and improved, Gigi thinks she has found a match for Etta. As the deadline for the contest approaches, Gigi has her pals try out her app only to find out that it has gone viral producing glitches in the program and serious problems for Gigi and her teacher, Ms. Harris. All gets neatly resolved with Gigi gaining new insight into what she truly wants for her future. Most readers will be treated to this world where teens wear original designers, dine at the trendiest restaurants, have their own credit cards, achieve high grades and awards, converse honestly and comfortably with their parents, and find their true love. Who wouldn’t want to escape there?

THOUGHTS: There are so many reasons this story is irritating, yet readers feel compelled to read it to the end. It fits all the stereotypes: wealthy prep school students can buy anything; the main characters are always going to the latest, best restaurants or ordering in their favorite foods; the narrator takes care to describe in detail their designer outfits and make up. Gigi knows the right things to say to maintain her sweet girl demeanor. She is supposed to be beautiful, smart, and popular, but no other girlfriends enter the story but her mentee, Etta, and through her, Gigi’s ex-friend, Anna. Perhaps Love, Decoded is an example of why we read fiction: to escape into a different world unlike our own. For that reason, Love, Decoded may become a seller among older middle school and younger high school students.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

YA – Last Night at the Telegraph Club

Lo, Malinda. Last Night at the Telegraph Club. Dutton Books, 2021. 978-0-525-55525-4. 409 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Lily Hu has always been the ideal Chinese-American girl: She does well in school, she has nice Chinese-American friends, and she never disobeys her parents. She never stands out except that she wants a career in space – not appropriate for a young lady in the 1950s. And lately, there is something else stirring inside her that Lily can’t quite put her finger on, but she knows it will not please her parents. At school, Lily starts hanging out with Kath, a fellow aviation enthusiast. After seeing an enticing ad in the newspaper, Lily desperately wants to go to the Telegraph Club, a nightclub in San Francisco that features a singer by the name of Tommy Andrews. Tommy is a female performer who impersonates a man on stage, and while Lily doesn’t quite understand what this means, she is intrigued. Kath has visited the nightclub before, so she and Lily sneak out to watch Tommy perform at the Telegraph. After a few late night visits, her relationship with Kath grows much deeper. Lily realizes what was stirring in her all along: She is a lesbian, and she loves Kath. Lily does not want to hide who she is, but she must figure out how her new, true identity coincides with the identity her parents have wanted for her since birth. 

THOUGHTS: Malinda Lo’s novel has many intricate layers to it. In the 1950s, many Chinese-Americans were forced to denounce Communism or risk deportation. At the same time, many young ladies were trying to figure out if there was more to life after high school than marriage and children. These events are happening in the background of Lily’s story along with the discovery of her LGBTQ identity, a taboo topic in the 50s. The events in this novel circle around the stigma of bucking against conventional society, and this still rings true even 70 years later. A must-have for high school libraries.

Historical Fiction          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD