In Emery Lee’s upcoming new book, Café Con Lychee, e brings readers a rivalry (reluctantly) turned friendship worth savoring. Theo Mori and Gabi Moreno have always clashed with one another. Their parents run rival businesses, and Gabi’s skills on the soccer field leave something to be desired. Gabi is trapped in the closet, with his parents’ shop as his future. Theo, meanwhile, is ready to leave town, but not before he knows his parents’ shop is financially sound. When a new fusion café opens and saps both businesses, Theo and Gabi realize their best chance to help their parents is to work together.
Something I found especially intriguing about this book are the similarities Lee draws between the Moris and the Morenos — Theo and Gabi, primarily, but with threads stretched across the families. While the Moris run an Asian American shop and the Morenos a Puerto Rican one, both families face a common enemy. With the emergence of the fusion café, they find themselves struggling to keep their businesses going. Personally, I would patronize both shops in a heartbeat (and I think many readers will agree). But Lee does an excellent job bringing readers’ attention to the appeal of the fusion café while also emphasizing how it’s acknowledged mediocrity is second to its novelty (and very Instagram friendly menu). More specifically, Lee uses Theo and Gabi’s similarities to elevate their rivalry and guide them towards understanding. Like their parents, both boys are so focused on reasons to dislike each other that they fail to see how alike they are.
Admittedly, I was a bit nervous about Theo early on. His treatment towards Gabi didn’t sit right with me, and not everything he did or said felt justified. But Lee erased those worries as Theo and Gabi began to find mutual ground. It’s always nice to see characters take responsibility for their actions, and Lee ensures that eir characters do just that. Readers who seek out character-driven stories will be absorbed by Theo and Gabi. The growth of their relationship felt organic. Nothing about them felt rushed or forced. Lee’s decision to write with a dual POV makes it easy for readers to understand Theo and Gabi’s motivations and quickly connect with them.
Any reader who picks up Café Con Lychee will find something to love with it. Lee’s voice is distinct and comes through in both eir writing in general and in Theo and Gabi. Each topic Lee hits receives thoughtful examination, often informed by different cultural backgrounds. E allows Theo and Gabi the grace to be messy and make mistakes and learn from them, bringing two relatable characters to life. The story is absorbing. It’s filled with the perfect balance of emotion and humor, and one that readers will relish.
Café Con Lychee releases on May 10. Pre-order your copy here.