Thursday, November 26, 2020

Shine by Jessica Jung: It's Not Always a Flowery Path for K-Pop Stars [Book Review]


Title: Shine
Series: Shine #1
Author: Jessica Jung
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Genres: Young Adult, Romance, Contemporary, Music, Asian Literature
Format: Paperback
Publication Date: September 29th 2020
Pages: 344

Synopsis (Goodreads): A Korean American teen is thrust into the competitive, technicolor world of K-pop, from Jessica Jung, K-pop legend and former lead singer of Girls Generation.

What would you give for a chance to live your dreams?

For seventeen-year-old Korean American Rachel Kim, the answer is almost everything. Six years ago, she was recruited by DB Entertainment—one of Seoul’s largest K-pop labels, known for churning out some of the world’s most popular stars. The rules are simple: Train 24/7. Be perfect. Don’t date. Easy right?

Not so much. As the dark scandals of an industry bent on controlling and commodifying beautiful girls begin to bubble up, Rachel wonders if she’s strong enough to be a winner, or if she’ll end up crushed… Especially when she begins to develop feelings for K-pop star and DB golden boy Jason Lee. It’s not just that he’s charming, sexy, and ridiculously talented. He’s also the first person who really understands how badly she wants her star to rise.


My rating: 3.5 / 5 ★

When I first found out that Jessica Jung was working on a book, I was absolutely ecstatic. I love her, I look up to her especially when it comes to fashion and style, and having something written by her would mean so much to me as a Golden Star (Jessica's official fan club name). However, when I saw the synopsis of the book, I felt a tiny bit of worry. Not only does it screams a cliché romantic young adult story but with the background of South Korea instead of Hollywood, it also reminded me of fan fictions that are found almost everywhere on the K-Pop fandom community.

Don't get me wrong, I respect fan fiction writers for the time they spent to write wonderful stories and posting them online to be read for free–I myself used to write fan fictions. The point is, I have no problem with fan fictions in general. But when Shine has the possibility of being similar to the fan fictions that I've encountered multiple times before, I slightly dreaded reading this book. I never quite enjoyed this kind of fan fiction anyway, where a trainee just somehow end up falling in love and secretly having a relationship with a member of a top boy band just because they happen to be the main character.

First of all, let's start with the official profile that was released for the characters of Shine. I am so glad I found these after reading the book, because oh boy, the way I cringed over them. Rachel Kim and Choo Mina's profiles were rather acceptable, but I just can't stand Jason Lee's profile. The nickname is okay, but "known for having the voice of an angel, smile of the devil and body of a God" is just too much. I still can't stop laughing while writing this. Despite the cringeness (I totally made up this word) of it, some K-Pop fans are known to exaggerate their idols by a whole mile so I'm actually not surprised those were put up as "facts" for the characters. It's probably meant to portray the profile written by a fan.

Shine is a story about Rachel Kim, who was heavily inspired by the author herself. Rachel sacrificed her youth for the sake of debuting as a K-Pop star in South Korea, and while she has her own troubles to overcome, her life ends up being tangled up with Jason Lee, the golden boy of the entertainment industry. Falling in love as a trainee was forbidden, so she had to keep her feelings and affairs a secret. Despite looking like she has the closest bond with all her potential team members, Rachel Kim actually struggled to fit in with the rest of the group.

The plot was relatively easy to follow, I'd say that Jessica Jung's writing style is simply... simple. There wasn't anything special to it, but it was not bad either. There were certain Korean words and phrases that the author didn't bother to explain the meaning, and I felt quite troubled by it. For a long time K-Pop fan like me, I recognised these words easily, but there are definitely people who are unfamiliar with them, so I believe that she should have at least included a glossary at the end of the book, or easily include a short explanation of the term. Googling them would have been easy, yes I know, but I still think if an author wants to educate their readers about their culture, this thing is not that hard to be included in their work.

Shine is a quick and fun read; there were instances where Rachel and Jason's moments turned out to be cute and sweet. As a contemporary romance book, I'd say it's a decent and well-written story. Unfortunately, it also reminded me of reading a fan fiction, just as I mentioned previously, so there wasn't really much of a wow-factor for me. However, since this book was written from the view of someone who actually went through the situation instead of just a fan, there were matters that deserved to be applauded. For instance, how much dark truths were being hidden by the entertainment companies and the groups that debuted in South Korea. I'm very much aware of how brutal the trainings for a K-Pop star trainee can be, but this book just further prove how little a fan like me could have known. The K-Pop community is saturated, too much group has debuted, so each trainee must sacrifice everything that have in order to be the best, and that includes eliminating someone who you see as a rival.

This book is definitely not as dark as what I'm trying to portray, but it has evidence that when it comes to debuting as a celebrity in South Korea: money works the best, friendship and good working attitude are not important as long as you can pretend that you have the best relationship in front of the whole world, love is absolutely forbidden, and there are stark differences in between the treatments received by a male and female trainee and celebrity. A male K-Pop star will be worshipped and treated with utmost care and respect, but female K-Pop stars have to suffer sexist remarks all the time and bigger consequences if they end up in scandalous moments. This is the harsh reality of the K-Pop world in reality, and I applaud Jessica for exposing these matters.

I hated reading the rivalry and hatred especially between Rachel and Mina (why can't girls and women just support each other?), but if you're aware about the bullying case of AOA's former members, Jimin and Mina, it's not hard to swallow the fact that some K-Pop idols will never like their team members, despite showing to the fans how "close" they are. Apart from that, another thing that I have a trouble swallowing is Rachel and Jason's first kiss. I'd hate to spoil it so I'll try to spare the details, but honestly, if you kiss someone passionately before going on a stage, wouldn't that have smudged your make up? It just doesn't make sense that someone passed by them after the kiss and not notice that they were all over each other just seconds ago! Well, unless the make up they used were extremely smudge-proof or kiss-proof, then I guess I'm the one in the wrong here whoops.

The characters in Shine were mostly inspired by real people in Jessica Jung's life; Rachel Kim was definitely inspired her the author herself, while Rachel's younger sister was inspired by Krystal Jung, the author's own younger sister. Although I think it's all fun and games to guess which other characters were inspired by real people, I think it was quite unfair of Jessica to actually tell her fans that reading Shine "is going to be like an Easter egg hunt", because it could potentially hurt someone. Fans can be vicious when it comes to protecting their idols, and it's not a secret that some Golden Stars no longer supported Girls' Generation after Jessica parted from the group. And by doing this, she would unintentionally spark a heated argument or hatred towards the members of Girls' Generation. Although I love Jessica more, Girls' Generation was also one of the first K-Pop groups that I listened to, so essentially I wish that things would go well for both parties. I won't go on about the rest of the scandals being tied to Shine, but you may read this article for more information about it. I do suggest to take it with a grain of salt though, Jessica probably just wanted her fans to have fun reading her book.

There weren't any characters in Shine that I grew attached to, but I do like Rachel Kim's personality. I like that her character is not the goody two shoes or Mary Sue kind of girl (which is often the case in this type of fan fiction, but whew, thank you Jessica for avoiding that!). She knows how to fight back when it's the right time, which made her more relatable and this made her arguments with Mina to be rather tolerable. I like that she's also mature enough to offer help to her rival when in need, even if the person had made her suffer countless of times. There weren't much to say about Choo Mina, but I look forward to see her growth in the sequel to Shine. She's quite a hateful character, but I know she has the potential, so I hope for a positive change for her character soon.

As for Jason Lee, he's depicted as the perfect main male character. He got the looks, he got the voice, he got possibly every girl's heart and soul, he's half white half Korean (of course), he has the talent–basically he's a walking perfection. But just because he seemed to have everything, is he really a perfect person. Of course not. Nobody's perfect, and Jason has secrets of his own as well. I thought he was cute when he first appeared in Shine, but then the red flags started to show. Rachel didn't seem to mind, but it bothered me how much Jason was touching Rachel at the first party they met. It might just be due to the difference in culture, but I was still bothered by it. Jason is also ignorant and can be borderline sexist when Rachel was trying to make him see that male idols and female idols were treated differently. I have no idea what he did in the end for Rachel as a "redemption", but I still find it hard to forgive the things he did to Rachel.

There are just so much that I wanted to say about this book, but saying more would mean that I risk spoiling more of the story. I didn't realise this end up becoming one of my longest book reviews! Anyway, despite rating this 3.5 stars only, I did enjoy reading Shine and I'm looking forward for its sequel. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading a cute and light story with a touch of toxicity and female rivalry, or to those who are curious about the world of K-Pop, as well as those who enjoyed fan fictions of a female trainee getting in a relationship with a popular male idol. 

Many thanks to Pansing for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. Shine is now available in all good bookstores! 


It's up to us to be independent, to tell ourselves the truth of what we are capable of, and to do everything we know we have the strength to do.

Till next time ♡ Love, Aishah Humaira'

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