One of my greatest disappointments of adulthood was realizing that there is no point at which you have your life completely figured out for all time. In every decade we find ourselves considering our priorities and our choices. After reading her debut, The Donut Trap, I think I can safely assert that Julie Tieu writes characters who are figuring out how they want to be in the world really well.
In Circling Back To You, Cadence Lim and Matt Escanilla are at a point in their 30s where career, family, and personal goals need to be reassessed. They work together and everyone in the office thinks they are, or should be, a couple. For a good third of the book they pine, and even when they do decide to try dating, they have to figure out what that means in the face of job opportunities and family needs and expectations.
An added complication is the different ways they interact with the world. Cadence hides her grief with reserve. Matt hides his anxiety with sparkle. Tieu makes sure to show that the two have built a strong work partnership, and the foundation for a friendship and more. But they both have to learn to communicate feelings and be honest about what they want. Cadence has been so firm in her separation of work life and personal life that Matt has a lot to learn about her. Matt is willing to learn all he can, and I love that he takes a back seat to Cadence when he needs to.
I like the way Julie Tieu writes. She’s engaging, has a firm hand on her characters, and writes with nuance. The marketing department at her publisher doesn’t seem to know what to do with her books though. There are funny moments in Circling Back to You, but it doesn’t feel a rom-com. And while Matt proposes at one point that Cadence pretend to be his girlfriend, there is no fake dating. I had similar issues with The Donut Trap. It’s a shame because people will pick up the book expecting something very different. If you are looking for a good friends to lovers, workplace romance with a healthy side of dealing with family expectations, and excellent AAPI representation, read Circling Back to You.
CW: death of parent and grand parent in past, grief, parental disapproval, racist microaggressions.
I received this as an advance reader copy from NetGalley. My opinions are my own and freely given.