Thank you, Simon & Schuster, for giving me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
If someone had told me when I was 11 years old about everything I’d have to sacrifice to get to this point, everything that would be stolen from me, I would have said they were writing a K-drama.Rachel Kim
When I first heard of this book, the K-pop fan in me man-screamed in delight. Even though I wasn’t familiar with Jessica Jung’s role in Girls’ Generation, I was excited to see how she would shed light on the K-pop industry and what happened behind the scenes. I had also read some articles that claimed the book was a bit autobiographical, so I was all the more intrigued. But now, I feel like my pre-reading experience was much better than actually reading the book.
At its core, Shine tells you what it’s like to be an aspiring K-pop star. Before debuting, you have to go through years of training. You might even have to sacrifice your agency and personal life to make your dreams come true. Rachel Kim’s journey to stardom is mostly a stressful one. It’s a cycle of performance classes, family problems, girl hate, and boy drama. Her experiences aren’t exactly unique since most of them also happen to ordinary teenagers. It’s just that her environment is extraordinarily toxic and competitive. If this fictional account is factual, I think every K-pop fan has to reconsider how they view their favorite artists and entertainment companies.
Regardless of my insights, I didn’t enjoy the novel because most of the characters thrived on negativity. It was like Rachel’s fellow trainees were determined to make her life miserable. Cho Mina, in particular, always got on my nerves. Like all bullies on TV, she had two other mean girls to back her up. As for DB Entertainment, their executives excelled at making Rachel feel insecure, hopeless, or inadequate. Genuinely kind people were pretty rare in her universe. But to be fair, Rachel did have a few close friends—albeit ones without much personality/development. At the very least, they brought some color to Rachel’s dreary schedule.
Jason Lee, the love interest, was simultaneously basic and complex. Basic in that he was a handsome and happy-go-lucky dude with daddy problems, but complicated in that he could reflect the author’s male acquaintances IRL. One of the sources of conflict in the book was that K-pop stars couldn’t date anyone. The rule didn’t apply to Jason, though; he was insensitive enough to accuse Rachel of being paranoid. It turned out that DB Entertainment had double standards wherein female trainees were the only ones penalized for having love lives. So annoying, right? But then Jason would do or say something sweet, making it hard for you to strike him off your list.
The ending of the book was unsatisfactory. Rachel and Jason’s relationship was unclear, even though Jason was the reason why Rachel’s debut pushed through. Moreover, what happened to Akari (Rachel’s Japanese best friend)? These two plot points were essential to me, so the lack of closure was disappointing. Perhaps things are different in the finished edition, but I’m not keen on buying a copy to find out. Hahahaha. #NotWorthIt
Overall, I don’t recommend Shine if you wish to retain their high opinion of the K-pop world. I certainly felt disenchanted after reading it, but you can rest assured that my appreciation for the music itself remains unscathed. As much as I love the genre, I don’t want to be in any K-pop artist’s shoes. But if you like Jessica Jung and her former group, you might have an epic Easter-egg hunt.