My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Thank you, Macmillan, for giving me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
You’re not the first person to assume that K-pop artists don’t actually know anything about music. We don’t go through that training because we like the fashion. —Lucky
I’m pretty torn about Maurene Goo’s third novel. As a fan of K-pop (I have around 15 favorite artists), I expected that I would have a nearly perfect reading experience. Sadly, it seems that my love for the genre isn’t strong enough to negate my dislike for unrealistic romance. Although instalove is practically a given in YA contemporary, I can’t lower my standards and just highlight the book’s strong points.
Somewhere Only We Know follows Lucky, the best K-pop artist in the world. (Indeed, she even trumped BTS! LOL) After performing for the ecstatic Hong Kong audience, she realizes that her passion (turned job) no longer makes her happy. Starving because of her low-calorie diet, Lucky escapes the confines of her hotel and goes on a food trip with Jack, a fellow Korean-American who secretly works as a tabloid photographer. Unbeknownst to Lucky, Jack is actually using her to advance his career. However, as the day progresses, he falls in love with her, and his resolve begins to falter. Awesome, right? Hahaha. I don’t have to tell you how their story ends.
I loved how Maureen Goo explored certain issues surrounding the K-pop industry, like plastic surgery, racial discrimination, contractual celibacy, and personal alienation. The latter was emphasized through Lucky’s character arc, and I somehow sympathized with her dilemma. She barely spent time with her family because of her hectic schedule, so she was always homesick. Plus, she couldn’t go wherever she wanted nor eat her favorite unhealthy dishes. Lucky’s management label obliged her to be a perfect “girl next door” who inspired everyone, making it hard for her to stay true to herself. In real life, many K-pop artists probably feel the same way. However, Lucky had it worse because she was a solo artist; girl and boy groups definitely feel less lonely since they live in the same apartment or dormitory and do lots of things together. With all that said, this book can be very enlightening to readers who are new to K-pop.
As for Jack, he was hecka annoying. He lied to his parents about the nature of his internship, and he basically planned to ruin Lucky’s musical career. If the public discovered that she was traversing Hong Kong with a boy, her innocent reputation could be tarnished permanently. I also didn’t understand why Jack saw college as a waste of time. Indeed, you can get a job without a degree, but the knowledge that you gain during those four+ years is invaluable. Fortunately, things became better for Jack in the end. He saw the error of his ways and did his best to reconcile with his loved ones. Although the author made Jack’s personality unlikable for the sake of character development, I couldn’t muster any fondness for him. He was just a contributor to the novel’s cultural diversity.
I haven’t read The Sun Is Also a Star, but it’s probably similar to this book. After all, both of them feature colored protagonists who fall in love in a single day. Is that phenomenon really possible? That we-just met-but-I-feel-like-I’ve-known-you-forever cliche? Ugh. It’s ironic how contemporary fiction can seem so fantastical. Hmm…the romance might have been less stressful if it hadn’t resulted in cringy dialogue. Hopefully, the final manuscript will be less corny.
In the end, Somewhere Only We Know has an excellent depiction of K-pop. I’m glad that Maurene did lots of research to ensure the accuracy and relevance of her work. However, if you’re also not a fan of unrealistic relationships, I wish you all the best. xD