Café Con Lychee by Emery Lee


 

Xolo Score 4.5/5

 

In Café Con Lychee, Theo Mori will do anything to avoid being in the same room as Gabi Moreno. Gabi’s parents run the local Puerto Rican restaurant and are constantly stealing business from Theo’s parents’ pan-Asian café. To make matters worse, Gabi is a lost cause on the soccer field, while Theo is the all-star captain picking up his slack. Even though Theo is his rival, Gabi marvels at Theo’s general confidence and wishes he could be out as gay to his family and friends like Theo is. When a new culturally appropriating ethnic fusion café opens and saps both businesses, Theo and Gabi realize their best chance to help their parents is to work together. Under the guise of running deliveries for Theo’s family restaurant and planning the upcoming homecoming dance, Theo and Gabi secretly sell food at school to make up for lost funds. As they spend more time together, it becomes clear they have more in common than they thought, and their relationship blossoms into something more.



 

*** SPOILERS AHEAD ***

 

It’s interesting to see how a new fusion café opening up in a majority white town of Vermont is the catalyst for main characters Theo and Gabi to set aside their differences to help save their families’ businesses. The new fusion café’s appeal is superficial and depends heavily on its trendy Instagram-able foods and shop. Theo and Gabi’s friends confirm that the food quality is mediocre and inauthentic. Still, unfortunately, customers feel more comfortable buy from a sensitized and white-washed ethnic restaurant because it’s more palatable than minority-owned small businesses that prioritize quality and authenticity. Theo and Gabi can relate to each other’s frustration with the fusion café, allowing them to set aside their differences and work together to defeat a common enemy.


Café Con Lychee goes back and forth between Theo and Gabi’s points of view so the readers can see the complex differences between seemingly similar characters. Theo and Gabi are both children of immigrant parents who carry the weight of high expectations. Unlike Theo, however, Gabi is not out as gay to his family and friends. As an only child, Gabi fears disappointing his parents since they’ve expressed homophobia in the past. Theo’s parents know he’s gay, but Theo wants to be the perfect son, student, and athlete, so his parents don’t have to endure ridicule from their extended family. When Theo and Gabi open up to each other, they realize the pain each has been holding from this generational trauma. And help each other find the courage to open up to their respective parents. Those moments were realistically intense and heartbreaking but ultimately Theo and Gabi can reach a place of healing with their parents.


It’s great to see that Gabi and Theo experience a lot of inspiring growth in Café Con Lychee. In the beginning, both characters have a lot of broken relationships with their friends and family members. It’s understandable since both carry the weight of others’ expectations, keeping them from being who they want to be. Not only is Gabi not out, but he also is taking secret dance classes because he fears no one will understand his passion and self-expression. Theo feels that he has to be the perfect athlete and student to make up for the fact that he’s not the heterosexual son his family thought they would have. Throughout the story, Theo and Gabi open up and allow space for each other to be vulnerable, learning that there are people who not only accept but love all the cooky, quirky, messy parts of your life. And that when you are your authentic self, you can build solid and healthy relationships.


Café Con Lychee is a multicultural and multiracial YA romance novel about balancing authenticity and self-expression with familial expectations.


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