Author: Maan Gabriel

Rating: 2 stars 

Publication date: April 18th, 2023

Genre: Romance, fiction

Format read: eBook

StoryGraph Summary Excerpt: After a chance meeting in New York city, Bianca Curtis and “Eric,” better known as insanely famous Korean actor Park Hyun Min, spend twelve perfect hours together—only to be torn apart at the end of the night by the inescapable realities of their very distinct worlds. But their story isn’t even close to over yet.

Find the Book: StoryGraph | Goodreads

Thank you to Sparkpoint Studio for sending me an Advance Reader Copy!

It’s Friday night when Bianca sits at a crowded bar, hoping that the hustle bustle of Manhattan will tune out her woes. She laments about the person she once was and voices a relatable thought about her past self, “On her face, there is promise” (which is now unattainable). 

After a chance encounter with Eric, a stranger who shows her a level of kindness she hasn’t experienced in years, Bianca’s life starts taking a turn. She had no expectations from the discomfitingly sweet stranger, but never did she expect an unforgettable night. There’s no way that life is as romantic as the Korean dramas (K-dramas) she adores, right? Right? Clearly, the universe has some twists and turns up its sleeves because Bianca soon realizes why Eric feels so familiar: she’s been seeing him on-screen in her beloved K-dramas! The two couldn’t be from more different worlds, but they are drawn together by their mutual desire to escape their daily pressures. They’re sad when the night comes to an end, but Bianca doesn’t want to prolong the already painful goodbye. Will they ever find their way back to one another?

“This could be a premise for a good movie,” Bianca noted correctly in an earlier chapter. In my book (ha! sorry), this story has so much potential it doesn’t live up to. The concept is unique and there are many cute moments, but it wasn’t enough to sustain my initial enthusiasm. There’s a repeated bit where Bianca and Eric discuss how people only use the word “interesting” when they can’t think of anything better to say—unfortunately, I found this to be true for a lot of this story. 

They say not to judge a book by its cover, but that’s hard to do not only if you’re a visual person (like me) but also if you’re looking for a feel-good romcom. Both the cover and description led me to believe that Twelve Hours in Manhattan would be a light-hearted read, but it is not. It deals with a number of heavy themes [CW]: addiction, substance abuse, death, grief, and a brief discussion of an abortion. Relatedly, I’m unsure if the story matches the feel of the K-dramas it is paying homage to (can fans of the genre weigh in?). The only one I’ve completed so far is Crash Landing On You (2019), which beautifully mixes individual growth, humor, poignance, and complicated yet satisfying relationships—traits Twelve Hours in Manhattan lacks. Also, like many romcoms, this one features a protagonist who has always wanted to leave their suburban life for the oh-so-wonderful New York City. But there isn’t enough growth in Bianca’s character and her relationships (and I’m not talking about her career trajectory) to fully enjoy the “New York is so magical” of it all.

The few relatable parts don’t reach the depth required to stick, partly because the characters end up being more one-dimensional and insufferable than anything else (sorry Bianca, but if someone teased me about something after I said I didn’t like it, and then “Whatever”-ed me, how could I not be annoyed?). I found Eric to be the most kind, intriguing character, but chapters from his perspective might’ve helped me form a stronger opinion. I was initially rooting for Bianca, but I eventually just detached from her because she had one too many blasé and dismissive reactions considering the topics being addressed. Speaking of, what stood out the most was the portrayal of mental health: Despite being a throughline in the book, it was not handled with the directness and nuance it needs. My least favorite part was the use of a certain character’s addiction as a plot device that isn’t treated sensitively at all. 

Though this story’s premise started off on a good note, the writing grew stilted, the pacing was strange, and the characters weren’t well-developed. I pushed myself to keep going because I really wanted to like this book, but it just fell extremely flat.