Super Fake Love Song (Book Threat with Sarah Hunt)
Posted on October 31, 2023 at 6:00 am by Gene Ambaum
Years ago, my friend (and fabulous librarian) Sarah and I talked about books on Book Threat, and I really miss those conversations because I always love the books she recommends. Here’s a conversation we had a few weeks ago about
Super Fake Love Song by David Yoon. GP Putnam’s Sons, 2021. 9781984812254. 384 pp.
Gene: Welcome back to Book Threat! I’m very excited. How long a break have we had?
Sarah: I was trying to figure it out. Five years?
G: And why did you pick this book to talk about?
S: I was looking at my book collection and I liked the look of the cover, especially him holding a guitar with a 20-sided die on his T-shirt. And I was in a place in my life where I was like, you know what I need? A romantic book with an Asian male lead. There are a lot of movies out there and not a lot with Asian male leads.
G: And why is that Sarah?
S: Because the world sucks. (laughs)
G: How about the opening quotes?
S: They’re from Bruce Lee and Gary Gygax, which sets the tone.
G: These are great.
Showing off is the fool’s idea of glory.
If you find the false, you find the true.
G: The first line is “What is the most embarrassing thing you have ever done for love?” which is exactly what the book is about, I guess. Though it’s not exactly embarrassing…
S: I’d summarize the book as this dumb thing, this misguided thing, not exactly this embarrassing thing.
G: What is your booktalk for this book?
S: So this guy’s parents bring home their clients, and they introduce their son to their clients’ daughter, and she’s gorgeous. They say to their son take her up to your room while we do business or whatever and instead of going into his room which is filled with plastic storage containers filled with props for his YouTube channel where he makes LARPing weapons, DIY Fantasy FX, he turns the other direction to his brother’s room. He’s living in L.A. now, and he’s a rock star, and his room is full of guitars and amps and gig posters and cool clothes.
G: And the girl thinks it’s his room.
S: Yes. So he’s stuck in this lie that he’s a cool guy and not who he is.
G: She thinks he’s in a band so he convinces his friends to form a band.
S: I love that scene! She goes to his school, and he’s going to show her around, and so he doesn’t have time to contact his friends and tell them, hey, I lied, please go along with it. He just walks up to them and talks like they have a band and his friends, who are awesome, are like okay, hey, yes! Sure! Band practice!
G: His brother’s band’s name was The Mortals but he’s named his The Immortals.
S: He said his old band broke up and this is his new band.
G: He panicked because of the gig posters on his brother’s wall.
It’s about him trying to fake being in a band and not let her know how geeky he and his friends are. So he grabs his brother’s clothes and sneaks wearing them at school. His parents are workaholics…
S: So they don’t notice!
G: He’s being bullied by someone who knows the truth. It’s kinda cute. More cute than it should be. I love his friends Milo and Jamal. He says he pretended to be in a band to seem cool, and Milo says, “It’s perfectly okay to be terrible with girls. We are all terrible with girls.” So their plan is to practice, have a fake fight, and a fake break up.
S: And maybe not even practice. But just to seem like a band.
G: But then it gets out of control and they end up practicing and planning to play in the school talent show. That’s where everything goes wrong.
S: That’s the pitch. The main character is Sunny Dae his brother —
G: Gray Dae.
S: That’s a little too much isn’t it?
G: A little bit. But they’re both sort of plausible names. And if you have the last name Dae there’s always some goofy thing about it.
S: And she kind of comments on it after she finds out Sunny’s older brother’s name.
G: I loved his ringtone, from Gauntlet: “Elf shot the food!”
S: He changes it to a guitar riff. (laughs)
G: Sunny is the idea guy for the DIY Fantasy FX YouTube channel he created with his friends. He becomes the host. It seems plausible that he’s more than he believes he is but I was trying to think, there was a point where this book felt way too self-conscious and full of way too many things I love because someone my age wrote it. It felt like a book for someone my age. But then it swept me away and took me back to my teen brain in a way that wasn’t nostalgic like Ready Player One.
G: And then at some point, I think it was the first kiss, I was all in. This is a great book!
S: There’s a funny setup, and I was in the same mindset, I thought this was aimed at me and not actual teens.
G: And that’s not the worst thing.
S: Not at all. Because if you can bring something authentic, no matter where it’s from, even if it doesn’t match your readers’ backgrounds, they will feel that specificity and authenticity.
G: I hate teen novels where they have the bullying scene, even if it’s realistic. And his flashback was okay. Sunny remembers his bully– Gunner, the hulking football player– taking a paladin D&D figure he made from plaster. He wrote and drew with chalk to taunt Sunny about where he put it. We think it’s chalk anyway. But Sunny finds it was all drawn with his figure that’s now a nub. Gunner is still kind of a mess, still bullying Sunny. Cirrus is lovely.
S: Cirrus Soh is the girl.
G: She’s been living abroad so she has a British accent and an outsider’s view of American culture, which is nice. She’s a fish out of water but we’re not in her point of view. She probably seems cooler than she is because she’s just a bit different. Which I like. She’s kind of a goth who dresses in white.
S: It only just now occurred to me that her name means cloud. And will Cirrus turn Sunny Dae into Gray Dae? I’m glad I didn’t think of that while I was reading the book.
G: Wow that’s a lot. (laugh together) There’s a lot of bike riding in this, which is strange.
S: There were a couple of things where I was like oh I see where this is going, and that’s not where it was going. Sunny rides some sort of crazy super efficient bike.
G: Have you seen these things before? It’s an elliptical stepper on a bike frame. It’s the least cool thing in the world.
S: It’s a very specific, super geeky bike, and he decides Gray would never ride something like this so he grabs a regular bike and rides to her house. But then when he gets there she has a crazy folding commuter bike and I’m like, it is cool, but they secretly have all of this stuff in common but it never comes back to the weird bikes.
G: I was worried that she was going to be Lady Lashblade. (She’s someone who’s big in the DIY LARPing community on YouTube in the book.)
S: I was worried about that too. I was worried she was going to be faking her coolness and that she never actually lived in the UK. The first thing that worried me was that Gray had died horribly and that no one was going to talk about it. But it turns out he’s fine and living in L.A. just as they said and I was like, I think I’ve been traumatized by other YA books.
G: I like when Gray shows up at the house and something bad has happened and he starts living in their basement. He doesn’t want to be a rock star anymore. And when he finds out what Sunny is up to he’s like, whatever. He doesn’t care. He seems to be going in the direction of his parents, trying to get a job in marketing. They’re not awful but they’re super absent.
S: Yeah, they belong to a golf club so they can network but they don’t play golf.
G: And Cirrus’ parents are urban planners, famous all over the world.
S: Like the guy who designed the Seattle Public Library building, Rem Koolhaas.
G: But her house is empty and her parents are never there. It’s strange. You can see why she needs him, and why he’s attracted to her. But it’s supposed to be this high-end community in Southern California, 99.6% white. Does that still exist anywhere?
S: It might have when Yoon grew up vs. now.
G: There’s a lot of great stuff in this book. The supporting characters are just fleshed out enough for the roles they play.
S: And I really like the happy memories Sunny had of playing with his brother, LARPing, hanging out being knights in their old home which was not in a perfect gated neighborhood, with less fancy food in the fridge. Back when the parents were grinding along with clients who had lower incomes.
G: Then there was some kind of transition and instead of meaning more security it meant more money and more work. It’s sad. There’s a nice moment at the end with the parents where they realize how much they’ve messed up. They seem to get it and step back from it in a realistic way. Sunny, to get Gunnar to not tell Cirrus what he’s doing, helps him with his science project. They kind of become friends. It flips in a pleasing way.
S: I like that that’s how it turned out because Sunny can’t see the strength in being unapologetically nerdy until this school year. It doesn’t bother him except when he’s being shoved around in the lunch room.
G: Sunny finds Gray’s old iPod, which is full of songs he recorded for himself including one Sunny and his friends end up playing at the talent show. The band teacher gives them access to a practice room, and Gray helps them get better and better. There’s a nice moment where Gray is talking about how Sunny can do anything, how he can basically be himself. It’s about how much Gray envies Sunny. In Sunny’s mind Gray abandoned him to become a rock star, but Gray really envies Sunny. I wasn’t sure it was true, but it felt true later on.
S: I think it was unrealistic for Gray’s high school self but realistic for his adult self because he was trying to make it in the music business. We don’t need to talk about what happens at the talent show when it all implodes.
G: At the end when the brothers go to serenade Cirrus, after she knows it’s all been bullshit and Gray is trying to help Sunny apologize and all of Sunny’s friends are mad at him. Cirrus is leaving for China and they go to serenade her and the neighbor is the only one who hears it. It was so great. (laughing together) I knew that couldn’t be the end, but I loved the way that worked, and how he got back together with his friends soon after. It all ends at a DIY Fantasy Fair where you get this weird objective view of all of them. Milo is a big buff dude. Jamal is a hunk. And it earns the happy ending it has.
G: I guess I’d give it to any kid who liked Ready Player One. I don’t know if I’d give it to too many adults. I don’t really understand the difference between YA fantasy and adult fantasy except the age of the characters.
S: My usual rule of thumb is what are their goals? And what challenges are they overcoming? And where does that fit into developmental stages? But falling in love or being real or fake seems pretty ageless.
G: And the way it plays out is very high school. I guess I see why adults would read this book — it’s nostalgic. I prefer YA romance like this to adult romance. The latter is hard for me to connect with because I can remember being a teen and not understanding what I now feel relationships are like and how they work. I believed in the Say Anything model and thought that must be the basis for a lifelong relationship. It’s hard for me to suspend disbelief that much when I’m reading an adult romance.
S: I feel like adult romance is its own genre, marinating in its own tropes. YA romance doesn’t assume you’ve been reading it for years and years. It assumes you’re fresh to it.
S: This book, I laughed out loud multiple times, and my husband, who is the Asian male lead in my life, asked me what I was reading… In the scene where Sunny has to go to class but that is not what he cares about at the moment, so he sits down and listens to the teacher make trombone sounds and leaves. Like the trombone sounds when adults talked in the Peanuts specials! (both imitate the sounds)
G: There are a lot of moments like that. They’re very fun. It felt like Yoon was having such a good time writing this book, and in the Afterward he talks about how he wrote it for himself. And it reads like that. There’s real joy here.
S: That was the other thing that I thought was going to happen that never happened, it threw me, because there is so much overlap between heavy metal and fantasy. There’s a reason there was a joke about a Stonehenge prop in Spinal Tap! I was expecting Sunny and his friends to bring all of their Fantasy FX stuff on stage to make this amazing rock show, which they could have done, but they didn’t. Maybe that will be in the sequel.Tags