Café Con Lychee by Emery Lee _ Book Review

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Sometimes bitter rivalries can brew something sweet

Theo Mori wants to escape. Leaving Vermont for college means getting away from working at his parents’ Asian American café and dealing with their archrivals’ hopeless son Gabi who’s lost the soccer team more games than Theo can count.

Gabi Moreno is miserably stuck in the closet. Forced to play soccer to hide his love for dance and iced out by Theo, the only openly gay guy at school, Gabi’s only reprieve is his parents’ Puerto Rican bakery and his plans to take over after graduation.

But the town’s new fusion café changes everything. Between the Mori’s struggling shop and the Moreno’s plan to sell their bakery in the face of the competition, both boys find their dreams in jeopardy. Then Theo has an idea—sell photo-worthy food covertly at school to offset their losses. When he sprains his wrist and Gabi gets roped in to help, they realize they need to work together to save their parents’ shops but will the new feelings rising between them be enough to send their future plans up in smoke?

[I received a digital arc for an honest review]

Café Con Lychee
 is a YA enemies to lovers contemporary romance by author Emery Lee.

Theo Mori and Gabi Moreno’s families have been rivals as long as they can remember, both feeling like the other are stealing their family business’ costumers. Therefore, it’s no surprise they aren’t friends even though they are in the same grade and play on the same soccer team. Theo is openly gay, good at soccer and not the best academically. Gabi is very much in the closet, shy, smart, uncoordinated on the field but put him in a dance classroom and he shines. When a new fusion café opens in town, both families are faced with having to close their shops. Theo and Gabi have to put their differences aside for a chance at saving their families businesses. It doesn’t take long before these rivals are calling themselves friends, and even stronger feelings form.

“Like a promise, that whatever comes next – no matter how messy or unpredictable or potentially painful – we’re in this together.”

There is so much that I loved about Café Con Lychee, firstly the fact that its dual POV because it just wouldn’t have been the same without it. Both of our main characters are PoC. Theo is Asian (Chinese & Japanese) American and Gabi is Puerto Rican. The story dives into the cultural aspect these two boys face when it comes to their sexual identity . While Theo’s parents are accepting, the rest of his extended family are very much not and Gabi is stuck in the closest in fear of his parent’s reaction since they are very forceful in their gender stereotype views. It highlights the differences between the two cultures through the book. The cultural aspects aren’t all heavy though, we get the delicious addition of the different drinks and pastries they love, from boba to pork buns.

“Somewhere in all the baked goods and caffeine, I think I caught feelings for Gabriel Moreno.”

As for our main characters themselves, I found myself favoring slightly awkward Gabi over Theo. While my heart went out to Theo as he struggled to keep his grades up with his ADHD and the pressures he felt at home of being compared to his older brother, he lost me with his overall attitude. Instead of trying to prove people wrong, he just said screw it and acted out because he thought they expected it. He was rude and simply mean to Gabi on more than a few occasions, and more than half of the time it was uncalled for. Gabi on the other hand, my heart broke for, the poor boy didn’t know what to do with himself and was constantly in fear of outing himself that he at times was homophobic and instantly regretted it. I loved seeing him slowly build his confidence and embrace himself the more time he spent around Theo and the closer they became as friends.

“I don’t know how he went from being Theo Mori, the son of my parents’ rival to just Theo, my best friend, the one person I know I never have to second guess myself around.”

My biggest complaints are the fact that we don’t get a first kiss and the ending wrap up. We are given a few sweet almost kisses but no actual first kiss, which was a bit disappointing. Also, the end seemed kind of abrupt, all wrapped up in a neat bow but not in a satisfying way. There’s a bit of the high school friendship drama that’s expected in YA contemporaries, but nothing that was too ridiculous, in my opinion. I’ve also seen reviews that say it’s too insta lovey but come on, think back how many people did you “fall in love” with in high school? I can name half a dozen 😂 that’s just what 16-year-olds do 🤷‍♀️

In the end Café Con Lychee by Emery Lee is a great YA contemporary with diverse characters, high school, family, friendships, coming out, loving yourself, almost kisses, and yummy treats.

—Written by Amanda—

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