~ Warning! Minor Spoilers! Book Review: Shine (Shine #1) by – Jessica Jung ~
I preordered Shine upon its announcement because I love Girls Generation and still believe in the original nine. I was excited to hear that former member, Jessica, had written a book about K-pop. Shine got a lot of hype, and I enjoyed the interviews Jessica did with her sister, Krystal. However, later reviews claimed that this book felt like fan fiction and wasn’t well written. Don’t get me wrong: fan fiction is fun, but these criticisms made me weary wondering if this was another fictionalize self-insert story written by a famous person hastily published because they know the fanbase will blindly support.
The story is about 17-year-old Rachel Kim who is a Korean American K-pop trainee at one of Seoul’s biggest company, DB entertainment. Truthfully, I went into this excited about the tea that would be spilled and ended up being disappointed and turned off. There is a lot of girl hate in this. It might be based on truth events, but for a non-memoir, the book drove away the potential happy feels with the over spilling amount of unnecessary girl hate. Shine didn’t know if it wanted to be a YA romance or a potential tell-all; it tried to walk both paths and sadly didn’t succeed.
In addition, Shine attempts to bring light to all the sexism and misogyny that exist in K-pop. It discussed the different standards for male versus female idols. However, mentioning all of this and not having the characters acknowledge or improve on their behaviors was very disheartening. Frankly, I went into this expecting a fun book and it wasn’t.
Moving on, I thought the focus would be about K-pop and Rachel Kim. Yet, Rachel’s character was so flat along with everyone else. The author tries very hard to make Rachel come off as one of us. Yet, the author fails to remember that Rachel is attending an international private school with the top one percent and is a K-pop trainee receiving preferential treatment. Everything about Rachel is special, so downplaying her in order to make her relatable felt unnatural. Furthermore, her characterization is slightly all over the place. On minute she’s all about empowerment and being herself, but the next, she’s a crybaby participating in the oppression Olympics. Boo who, everything bad happens only to Rachel. Candidly, Rachel isn’t like the general public, so why can’t she be written as a character who stands out? The forced embarrassing moments especially with the love interest is just that, forced. A character can’t pretend to be an underdog but also be the top dog, especially if there’s no character growth. Speaking of character arc, I was so upset with Mina. One minute, readers think she’s changing for the better, but every time she does something seemingly nice, she suddenly reverts back to her stage one mean self, just cause. Yes, this can be based on real life, but don’t forget that a fictional story is still being told and readers still require the rising action, climax, and falling action. Thus, the characterization wasn’t good, and frankly, I wasn’t impressed with the weak romantic plotline.
As an Asian American, I understand a lot of the struggles Rachel faced, especially regarding identity. When I lived in Japan or when I visited China, I hated that because I was Asian, I was expected to know all the mannerism and cultural aspects or else I would be labelled rude or worse. While my American peers whose heritage was not Asian were given more leeway. I feel for, Rachel. However, I hated how she would complain about the strict culture of bowing and seniority in South Korea. I get that as an American bowing is not a part of our practice. Yet, her constant complaining left a sour taste in my mouth because she sounded like a foreigner who wasn’t willing to learn the culture of the country, she is residing in. Yes, we can go into a larger discussion of whether this cultural practice is appropriate and whether assimilation is right, but that is not my point. I want to keep this simple and say: when in Rome, do what the Romans do. Some may say I am wrong or harsh, but we can agree to disagree then.
Next, all the parents are terrible in this. I can’t believe that Jason’s mom would marry and have a child with someone who was so against her Korean culture. It was disgusting and then the father practically selling their son to his aunt was horrible. Yet, this was quickly brushed aside as not a problem. Also, let’s not fetishize biracial people; it’s not cool. Then, there’s Mina’s father who is clearly verbally abusive. Yet, like all the other issues brought up in this book such as sexism, it is never properly explored or addressed. Some may say that Rachel’s parents are great. To a certain extent compared to the other parents, I suppose so, but Rachel’s dad hiding the fact that he was attending and then graduated from law school from his wife and younger daughter sounded very weird. Like, what is wrong with the mom? Why won’t anyone tell her the truth? Rachel doesn’t want to tell her mom stuff and her father is hiding this not even white lie… there’s something wrong with the mom?
I am reading my notes, and it’s either me trashing on another sub plotline or me feeling like this book did itself dirty with how poorly it discussed important talking points. I don’t want to rehash those negative notes anymore. After a while I got tired and bored and just listened to the audiobook at the fastest speed possible which wasn’t fast enough. The narrator was pretty good though. Anyways, by the time I got to the end, I was even more disappointed. It ended up being a prequel filled with fluff and no substance simply to introduced readers to the next book. I didn’t even know this was going to be a series. It’s fine that it is, but at least finishing telling one story – it’s all loose ends.
Thus, the question on everyone’s mind might be whether I will pick up the second book. I am going to hate myself, but I probably will continue with the series. Some of the implications were juicy. As a GG fan and SM stan, I was drawing conclusions left and right. Therefore, I will see you in my review for Bright. I wont’ be picking it up immediately after its release. I need time to prepare myself. As for my rating for Shine: 2/5.