HEART AND SEOUL by Jen Frederick

From the publisher:

One woman learns that the price of belonging is often steeper than expected in this heart-wrenching yet hopeful romantic novel and first in the Seoul duology by USA Today bestselling author Jen Frederick.

As a Korean adoptee, Hara Wilson doesn’t need anyone telling her she looks different from her white parents. She knows. Every time Hara looks in the mirror, she’s reminded that she doesn’t look like anyone else in her family—not her loving mother, Ellen; not her jerk of a father, Pat; and certainly not like Pat’s new wife and new “real” son.

At the age of twenty-five, she thought she had come to terms with it all, but when her father suddenly dies, an offhand comment at his funeral triggers an identity crisis that has her running off to Seoul in search of her roots.

What Hara finds there has all the makings of a classic K-drama: a tall, mysterious stranger who greets her at the airport, spontaneous adventures across the city, and a mess of familial ties, along with a red string of destiny that winds its way around her, heart and soul. Hara goes to Korea looking for answers, but what she gets instead is love—a forbidden love that will either welcome Hara home…or destroy her chance of finding one.

This book is part family story, part romance, and part travelogue to Seoul in South Korea. Hara was adopted when she was a baby after her biological mother abandoned her on the streets of Seoul. Her adoptive parents live in the Midwest, and there are no other Asian kids in her school. Hara grows up always feeling like an outsider, despite her mother trying to help her learn about her heritage. Hara pushes those efforts away.

Her parents divorce and her father eventually remarries and has a son. When he suddenly dies, she learns he left his money to his “real” child. Hara and her dad had a difficult relationship, but she is very close to her mom. A few months after the funeral, Hara receives an email from the DNA adoption matching service with her birth father’s name and address, in Seoul. Hara decides to go meet him, and hopes to also find her birth mother.

Hara doesn’t plan much; this is a spur of the moment decision. She doesn’t speak Korean but a newish friend does, and her friend will be in Korea at the same time. Hara is sure it will all work out. But of course, there are hurdles.

Her friend arranged for a car and driver, but Hara mistakenly gets a ride with a young, gorgeous man that she originally thinks is her driver. He thinks she is beautiful, doesn’t dissuade her and gives her a ride. Luckily, he speaks perfect English, and tells her he was educated in the U.S. He also admits he is not a driver. She is so jet lagged and he is so good looking, she just goes along with it.

Hara spends two weeks in Seoul, finding her father, her mother, and love. But, and this is a big but and the cause for a lot of negative reviews – there is no happy ending here. However, the sequel, Seoulmates, comes out early next year.

The story is slow moving, and Hara isn’t an especially likeable character. But I like my happy endings, so I will be reading the sequel in hopes of finding it. Frankly, the publisher should have known better than to market this as a romance; one of the defining characteristics of the romance genre is the happy ending. It is women’s fiction with some romance, but it is really a story about Hara learning about her background and her culture. I like learning those sorts of things, too, so it worked for me.

NOTE: Coincidentally, as I finished reading this book I came across this article in the New York Times*:

The Myth of Asian American Identity: We’re the fastest-growing demographic group in the U.S. But when it comes to the nation’s racial and ethnic divisions, where do we fit in? [This article is adapted from “The Loneliest Americans,” by Jay Caspian Kang, to be published by Crown in October.]

10/2021 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

HEART AND SEOUL by Jen Frederick. Berkley (May 25, 2021). ISBN: 978-0593100141. 352 pages.



*Thanks to the New York Times for allowing me to “gift” my readers with free access to this article, a lovely perk for subscribers.

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