‘Café Con Lychee’ review: Emery Lee’s second novel is a treat worth savoring

In Emery Lee’s next book, Cafe Con Lychee, e brings readers a (reluctantly) rivalry-turned-friendship worth savoring. Theo Mori and Gabi Moreno have always clashed. 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 her parents’ shop as her future. Theo, meanwhile, is ready to leave town, but not before he knows his parents’ shop is financially sound. When a new fusion cafe opens and undermines both businesses, Theo and Gabi realize their best chance of helping their parents is to work together.

Something I found particularly intriguing about this book are the similarities Lee draws between the Moris and the Morenos – Theo and Gabi, primarily, but with threads stretching across the families. While the Moris run an Asian American store and the Morenos a Puerto Rican store, the two families face a common enemy. With the emergence of fusion coffee, they find it difficult to sustain their business. Personally, I’d frequent both stores in a heartbeat (and I think many readers will agree). But Lee does a great job of drawing readers’ attention to the appeal of fusion coffee while emphasizing how well-known mediocrity comes after its novelty (and very Instagram-friendly menu). Specifically, Lee uses Theo and Gabi’s similarities to elevate their rivalry and guide them towards understanding. Like their parents, the two boys are so focused on why they don’t like each other that they don’t see how alike they are.

Admittedly, I was a bit nervous about Theo at first. His treatment of Gabi did not sit well with me, and anything he did or said was unjustified. But Lee erased those concerns when Theo and Gabi began to find common ground. It’s always nice to see characters take responsibility for their actions, and Lee makes sure their characters do just that. Readers looking for character-driven stories will be engrossed in Theo and Gabi. The growth of their relationship seemed organic. Nothing about them seemed rushed or forced. Lee’s decision to write with a dual perspective makes it easy for readers to understand Theo and Gabi’s motivations and quickly connect with them.

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Any reader who picks up Cafe Con Lychee will find something to like with it. Lee’s voice is distinct and comes through both in their writing in general and in Theo and Gabi. Each topic Lee tackles is thoroughly examined, often informed by different cultural contexts. E allows Theo and Gabi to get messy, make mistakes, and learn from them, bringing two relatable characters to life. The story is gripping. It’s filled with the perfect balance of emotion and humor, and one that readers will enjoy.

Cafe Con Lychee releases May 10. Pre-order your copy here.

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