Review: Café con Lychee

Illustrated book cover of two teenage boys looking at each other. One is Asian and the other is Puerto Rican. Between them and above them is a collage of baked goods, coffee, and boba tea.

Illustrated book cover of two teenage boys looking at each other. One is Asian and the other is Puerto Rican. Between them and above them is a collage of baked goods, coffee, and boba tea.Title: Café con Lychee
Author: Emery Lee
Genres: Contemporary, LGBTQIA, Romance
Pages: 311
Publisher: Quill Tree Books
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available now

Summary: 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?

Review: [Content warnings from the author’s website: Homophobia (internal/external), toxic masculinity, food, emotional abuse, mentions of cultural appropriation, coming out.]

It has been a while since I sat down to read an enemies-to-lovers romance, but Emery Lee’s CAFÉ CON LYCHEE hit many of the notes I was looking for. And they very much are enemies at the start, at least on Theo’s side. It takes a while for Theo to warm up to Gabi, but they have some really sweet moments between the two of them once they start building a relationship that isn’t just Gabi literally slamming into Theo both on and off the field. The book is told in dual POVs, alternating between Theo and Gabi as they both try to deal with the impending closure of their families’ shops. Lee did a great job of differentiating their voices, and I often looked forward to seeing how the other would react to or reflect on a scene that was originally in the other’s POV.

There is a lot going on Theo and Gabi’s lives besides their relationship and the potential closure of their parents’ shops. Theo is angry about his older brother going to college apparently abandoning the family, and he also feeling like a disappointment to his parents in comparison to his brother. Meanwhile, Gabi is facing the impending loss of his (secret) dance lessons, some very rocky moments with his friends regarding homecoming preparations, and how much it sucks to be closeted with less-than-supportive family.

With such a tight focus on Theo and Gabi, there isn’t as much space for the development of the side characters. That said, Vivi and Theo’s family (and their subplots) had some good moments that I really enjoyed. Gabi’s parents were a lot harder to handle; the bulk of the “in scene” homophobia in the book originates with them, to the point where Gabi spends much of his time interacting with them being worried what will happen if they somehow figure out that he’s gay. There are a couple of difficult scenes showcasing their homophobia. I think the author did a good job of handling those scenes sensitively, but this might not be the book for you if you’re in the mood for a more lighthearted romance.

Recommendation: Get it soon if you’re a fan of the enemies-to-lovers trope and high school settings. Author Emery Lee tackles the highs and lows of being a teenager in CAFÉ CON LYCHEE, and e sensitively depicts the difficulties of a character being closeted and worried about coming out. The dual POV makes the book extra fun as we get to see what Theo and Gabi actually think about each other and how that changes over the course of the book.