I Read a Book Written by a K-pop Idol: Shine by Jessica Jung book review
Updated: Jan 30
GETTING INTO K-POP AND ABOUT THE BOOK
This past fall I started casually listening to K-pop (Korean pop music). I know a lot of people who listen to K-pop are hardcore fans. I am definitely not that. There are so many groups I am unfamiliar with as so far I've only explored the more popular groups. I mostly listen to Blackpink and Twice, though I am a fan of a handful of other songs by various other girl groups as well. I doubt I'll ever be a 'stan' as some super fans call themselves, but I can appreciate the stunning vocals and impressive choreography.
When I first heard of Shine, I knew immediately I wanted to read it. The novel is a YA contemporary about a Korean American girl named Rachel who is a K-pop trainee. I find the whole trainee process (the time potential idols spend training before their debut) to be one of the most fascinating parts of the industry. Given this book was written by a real life K-pop star (author Jessica Jung was a member of the girl group Girl's Generation A.K.A. SNSD) I figured there would be a lot of insight infused into the novel.
HOW READING SHINE MADE ME FEEL ABOUT K-POP
The image this book presents of the K-pop industry is a dichotomy. On the one hand it tackles issues of misogyny within the industry. I found myself constantly infuriated on Rachel's behalf in regards to the double standards she faced compared to her male counterparts. On the other hand, though, the book emphasized how K-pop made Rachel (a Korean who often faced racism while growing up in America) proud of her culture and heritage. It was so riveting to me how the same industry can be so brutal to its idols and yet one which can also be so rewarding for them.
Reading this novel made me feel a bit weird about listening to K-pop, to be honest, because it exposed some ugly sides of the industry. However, Jung said in an interview with Time that she wanted people to recognize the efforts and hard work of K-pop Idols, and I definitely think she did a good job portraying this. While the novel is a work of fiction, Jung admitted it was based on her own experiences. Therefore, as a reader I assume that the long training hours and strict dieting and exercise routines the characters follow are pretty accurate to real life. If so, the job of being an idol is no joke. It clearly takes a lot to become the 'perfect' idol.
MY REVIEW OF SHINE
I loved the relationship between Rachel and her little sister, Leah, which the author said in her Time interview is based on her real life relationship with her sister Krystal. As someone who grew up being bullied and struggling to fit in I related to Leah. Rachel is such a loving big sister to her who really looks out for her. This reminded me of my own big sister who I used to follow around like a shadow when we were growing up. Like Leah, I really look up to my sister.
Rachel herself as a character was a bit hit and miss for me. I appreciated what a hard worker she was and how dedicated she was. However, I felt she was a little too naive. The love interest character, Jason Lee, was also a mixed bag for me. He could be very charming and considerate, and he and Rachel had natural chemistry with each other. However, he was beyond cocky which is an unattractive trait to have. Finally, there's the main antagonist and Rachel's fellow trainee Mina. This part of the review is going to have a SPOILER, so be warned. Early on in the novel (chapter 3) Mina drugs Rachel at a party. Jung later tries to turn Mina into somewhat of a sympathetic character, but to me there is no turning back from such an action. I feel it's important to mention this due to the potential for it being triggering for some readers.
This is Jung's debut novel and the writing was relatively solid. It does read quite juvenile even for YA, largely due to the endless amounts of drama. It's written in the first person perspective of Rachel and this narrative style very much suited the story. Outside of people who are fans of K-pop I don't see this novel having a lot of draw simply because the plot focuses so much on Rachel's life as a trainee. Of course there is a romantic subplot, but even that is within the context of being a K-pop trainee. I rated the novel 3.5 stars and I will likely pick up the upcoming sequel which is said to follow Rachel when she's a K-pop idol (no longer a trainee).
THE INTERVIEW REFERENCED: