Thank you to Penguin Random House Children’s/Underlined for a copy of Fake Dates and Mooncakes in exchange for an honest review.
Dylan Tang wants to win a Mid-Autumn Festival mooncake-making competition for teen chefs — in memory of his mom, and to bring much-needed publicity to his aunt’s struggling Chinese takeout in Brooklyn.
Enter Theo Somers: charming, wealthy, with a smile that makes Dylan’s stomach do backflips. AKA a distraction. Their worlds are sun-and-moon apart, but Theo keeps showing up. He even convinces Dylan to be his fake date at a family wedding in the Hamptons.
In Theo’s glittering world of pomp, privilege, and crazy rich drama, their romance is supposed to be just pretend … but Dylan finds himself falling for Theo. For real. Then Theo’s relatives reveal their true colors — but with the mooncake contest looming, Dylan can’t risk being sidetracked by rich-people problems.
Can Dylan save his family’s business and follow his heart — or will he fail to do both? — From the publisher.
Get me a (vegan) mooncake, STAT
The things that Sher Lee’s Fake Dates and Mooncakes does best are explore food, culture and grief. I wanted to eat every morsel of food this book portrayed as tasty. When describing a mooncake, Lee could give the best food critics a run for their money.
I also love how much deliciously-painted food is tied in with main character Dylan’s love of his culture, which is then tied in with his grief over the loss of his mother. Meanwhile, Theo has his own complicated relationship with culture and grief. Double or mixed culture and grief are complex, but sensory experiences, which food is, can help heal those wounds.
Eat the rich?
Fiction — or maybe society as a whole — doesn’t know what to do with rich people. It seems we have to decide they’re either villains or [Insert Gender Appropriate Title] Charmings instead of, you know, people. The trappings of wealth are inherent flaws to overcome, just like any other novelistic character flaw.
I don’t say this to lionize the wealthy but to point out that nuance is missing. All people are capable of being good and bad. Very few people, if any, are actually evil.
Plus — and this is the part that truly gets me — there isn’t something intrinsically purer about taking a rich person’s money when offered out of benevolence rather than spite. How they earned that money isn’t different. How you’re going to use that money hasn’t changed.
Sprint to the finish
Sher Lee’s Fake Dates and Mooncakes feels like a marathon until the last 50 pages or so. On the one hand, I can understand cramming the inevitable conclusions into such a short page span since they’re not really “the point” of the book. However, doing so throws the entire pacing off, leaving us with a sense of literary whiplash.
I’m okay with #InstaLove, but the stakes get so high here that I did 🙄 a couple of times. But then I got over it because people do get invested in each other quickly, even if I’m a judgy person. And the romance is sweet.
Should you read it?
Despite my quibbles, yes. There’s enough good here that Fake Dates and Mooncakes is totally worth a read. Even though I had a complicated relationship with my late mother, this was a nice read right before Mother’s Day. Honestly, this book really has the perfect release date: a couple of days after Mother’s Day, halfway through AAPI Heritage Month and two weeks before Pride Month. If any (or multiple) of those celebrations hold significance to you, I think you’ll enjoy this book.
On that note, I don’t think there are enough YA romance novels about Asian guys. This is anecdotal, but at least half the time I read a romance with a non-white romantic lead, one of the pair is white. It was nice to see two Asian people in love! (That’s not to say interracial relationships aren’t great; they are!)
The final set of people I recommend this book to is foodies (but maybe don’t read on an empty stomach).
Fake Dates and Mooncakes is out on May 16, 2023. Pick up a copy at your local indie bookstore or library. 📚🥮👨❤️👨