Can romantic love truly last beyond the spark of a “first sight” crush, or is it bound by the forces of luck and fate? These themes and questions permeate the romantic drama comedy of award-winning creators Gene Luen Yang (American Born Chinese, Dragon Hoops) and LeUyen Pham’s (Friends series) Lunar New Year Love Story, a riveting graphic novel of unrequited love spanning across multigenerational and cross-cultural dimensions of family dynamics.
For fourteen-year-old Valentina (Val), love fell into and out of her life. Her imaginary best friend Cupid inspired her to send anonymous cards of encouragement to her classmates every year on Valentine’s Day. Later in life, a dark family secret illuminates the truth behind why her mom abandoned her dad. Crestfallen and jaded by this shocking revelation, Val loses the joy in sending out Valentine cards. Shortly thereafter, Cupid transforms into a shadowy specter christened Saint Valentine and proposes a challenge: Find true love within one year’s time, and if she fails, entrust her heart to him in exchange for protection from the pangs of love. Is Val’s yearning heart, like her parents’, destined for a life of fractured relationships, trapped in a persistent cycle of unfulfilled love? How can she break this curse, or is she doomed to succumb to its indomitable fate?
After a chance encounter with two attractive boys at a lion dance performance, Val decides to join their troupe. Through a series of plot twists, turns, and loops, the story delves into dramatic detours enhanced by expressive tonal colors. Characters partake in celebratory activities at a Têt festival—Vietnamese Lunar New Year—ensconced in varying shades of maroon. Scenes unfold through a montage of panels depicting cultural activities energized by lion dances choreographed across full-page spreads. Noir-like panels saturated with dark shades of charcoal gray herald the ominous wraith-like Saint Valentine hovering on the sidelines, intent on winning Val’s broken heart.
This tour de force of storytelling amplifies the plot through interethnic and intergenerational engagement between Vietnamese and Korean American cultures. Through this intricately crafted story, Yang and LeUyen combine captivating dialogue and symbolic metaphors to heighten the pursuit of genuine heartfelt love that transcends typical romances. The remarkable interplay of love, fate, family secrets, grief and loss, fractured family relationships, and reconciliation blend with supernatural and magical realism to produce an unerringly well-paced story. Radiating with intimate warmth and love through nuanced characters, this multilayered graphic novel will captivate young adult readers and beyond, a testament to the ingeniously plotted and exquisitely sculpted characters populating the backdrop of rich cultural traditions in diverse Asian American communities.
Lunar New Year Love Story
By Gene Luen Yang
Art by LeUyen Pham
Macmillan First Second, 2023
Publisher Age Rating: 14-18
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation: Chinese-American, Vietnamese American
Character Representation: Korean-American, Vietnamese American