I had the pleasure of reading Jessica Jung‘s “Shine” this past week once I finally picked it up at the book store (before buying it off of Amazon because it was cheaper). I know I’m like 6 months too late to the party, but as they always say – better late than never. Right?
Now, I didn’t and still don’t know much about Miss Jung except that she is formerly of Girls’ Generation, South Korea’s former national girl group before groups like TWICE and BLACKPINK came to snatch that title. You young’uns may not remember how super mega popular Girls’ Generation was (and I don’t either, I only got into K-pop in 2015, hah), so if that’s the case, you may wanna read up on them a bit if you want to appreciate this book better.
Or not, it’s up to you. I’m here to try and give a kind of thorough summary of the novel with my opinions and thoughts interspersed here and there. Get ready for a long read. Get your snacks and drinks.
The novel itself is catered to young adults, specifically K-pop fans and more specifically fans of Jessica. I’ll tell you now, as I read it, it felt quite fanfiction-like. Jessica herself said in interviews that the events that take place in the book were inspired by things she experienced as a trainee and an idol and that I don’t disbelieve but I wouldn’t put it past her to spice some things up for the sake of fiction. Yes, don’t get the wrong idea. This book is Young Adult Fiction, not an autobiography (though Jessica has admitted that Rachel Kim, the protagonist of Shine, shares many similarities with her, of course).
Alright, I think that’s enough dallying, I’ll commence the “review.” I’ll warn you now, this will be a chapter by chapter run down. I organized it that way for clarity and to make it easier on me. I’ll try to keep the summaries short (lies).
“Head up, legs crossed. Tummy tucked, shoulders back. Smile like the whole world is your best friend.”Rachel Kim, our protagonist (page 1)
The sentence above is the opening line of the book as we’re introduced to 17 year old Rachel Kim, a Korean-American who has moved to Seoul from New York with her family to pursue her dreams of becoming a K-pop star. A sentence that helps sets the tone of what we’re getting into. It is this chapter that we’re also acquainted with some of the other trainees including mean girl, Mina Choo, who dubs Rachel “Princess Rachel” as a snide allusion to Rachel’s supposed privileged status of being American and being one of the trainees who lives with her family (because normally trainees live in the “trainee house” to foster those family ties/values). Not to mention that Mr. Noh, the CEO of
SM DB Entertainment, Jessica’s company, appears to favor her and as we all know, being favored by a CEO brings all kinds of issues.
At DB Entertainment, they run the motto: Family comes first. A motto reminiscent of most, if not all K-pop companies who feign being close and familial with each other for publicity’s sake. We soon learn that just in real life, the fictional DB Entertainment is no better.
This is the “let’s introduce Rachel’s family and friends” chapter, so don’t skip this one if you pick up the book yourself. Quick rundown of characters in this chapter:
(Note: Korean terms are used in this book namely so I am copying from there with translation in parentheses).
Appa (Dad): Rachel’s dad. A former boxer who owned a rather successful gym back in New York but a less fruitful one in Korea. This has lead him to take night classes to receive a law degree for a better job (this is important for a later major plot point!). He is supportive of his daughter’s dream and rather laidback (or too tired to be assertive).
Umma (Mom): Rachel’s mom. A former English Literature professor at NYU but now works at Ewha Women’s University. She is not supportive of her daughter’s K-pop dreams and views it has just a hobby. She is intent on Rachel focusing on her education, specifically college.
Leah Kim: Rachel’s 12 (or 13 in Korean age) year old younger sister. She is very VERY supportive of Rachel’s dream and is basically her personal cheerleader. Leah is a pretty typical K-pop fan as well who dreams of marrying oppa and also consumes a healthy diet of K-pop MVs and K-dramas. She also fancies being an idol towards the end of the book.
The Cho Twins (Hyeri and Juhyun): Rachel’s best friends from Seoul International School. They are heiresses to the Molly Folly corporation, a makeup company, but the twins each hold a different interest outside of that. From the book, “But the only thing Hyeri is interested in doing for the family beauty company is revolutionizing their entire engineering and design department…As for Juhyun, she’s practically famous due to her YouTube beauty channel.”
Akari Masuda: Technically she was introduced in the first chapter as a fellow DB trainee of Rachel’s and her only true trainee friend. Akari hails from Japan but moved to Korea when her father was recruited to work at an air force base.
Yujin Chung: The head trainer at DB Entertainment and the one who scouted Rachel (at 11 years old!). Rachel has the utmost respect for Yujin and looks up to her as a mentor and unni. In turn, Yujin is also quite fond of Rachel.
This chapter is also sets up the lengths Rachel will go to debut when she is pressured to lie to her mom about going to the trainee house for a practice session set up by mean girl Mina. She lies with the help of Leah saying the Cho twins are having an overnight study session at their house. She succeeds in being able to go, but at what cost?
Okay, ladies and gents, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: we meet Jason Lee.
Jason Lee is basically DB Entertainment’s It boy and beloved by all. He is in the hottest new group, NEXT BOYZ, and is the heartthrob of girls and some boys across the world. Yet, Rachel’s first encounter with this boy is when she falls face first in the dirt after failing to take off her pajama pants on her way to the trainee house. Yeah, this is beginning to sound like fanfiction alright. If you’re wondering, the first description we get of Jason is this:
“I turn my head and see two brand-new white-and-black Nike sneakers standing on the sidewalk. My gaze drifts upward, taking in a pair of perfectly tailored Ader Error track pants and a Burberry sweater that I’m sure cost more than my entire wardrobe, all worn by a boy with silvery highlights in his hair, sparkling brown eyes, and cheekbones that could probably cut glass.”Shine, Jessica Jung (page 47)
Doesn’t really sound like my type of guy, but more power to you if you’re smitten by this image.
Anyways, Jason is also heading to the trainee house where we learn that the “practice session” is really an excuse to party it up in stereotypical teen fashion with underaged drinking, junk food, and drugs. You know, the works. And yes, you read that correctly – drugs are present at this party as Rachel learns the hard way after Mina spikes her champagne causing her to basically act off her rocker and really live the night up. Of course, the hangover the morning after costs her dearly.
Unfortunately for Rachel, she was drugged up by Mina the night before a major evaluation day at the company. This evaluation is for a chance to sing a duet with THE Jason Lee which will most likely ensure a spot in DB’s future girl group. But Rachel looks like a “fucking disaster” as she puts it as she does her best to look presentable in her Snoopy pajamas in front of the other trainees and execs including CEO Noh.
Of course, Rachel doesn’t do too well in her dance audition, but surprisingly does alright in the singing portion. It helps that Jason himself comes out to do it with her…only for Rachel to throw up all over his pristine Nikes right when it’s over. What a performance.
This is the school chapter and pretty short so skip if you’re in a hurry to read through the book or something as not too much important happens here. Though Rachel does see a viral video of this beauty YouTuber that gives her an idea revealed in the next chapter.
Rachel reveals to Yujin her plan of having a video of her singing go viral so the execs at DB can give her another chance and possibly give her the duet with Jason (which was handed to Mina in Chapter 4, of course). Yujin is reluctant at first but gives in. Eventually, Rachel and Akari (who’s here for support) meet up with Yujin at an underground cafe called, “Kwangtaek,” a hideaway for big name celebs like Chung Yuna, “the OG K-pop star,” owner of Kwangtaek, and Yujin’s mother.
Coincidentally (oh so coincidentally), Rachel encounters Jason who she successfully duets with leading to a surefire way to gain traction into virility.
Rachel meets with the execs who have noticed the viral video and can’t ignore it because really…Rachel does sound really good with Jason, no? They let her sing with Jason on the condition that they have to do it as a trio (Mina stays). Rachel is too happy to care and goes along with it because what can she really do? She’s on top of the moon until she returns home and founds out that her mother has found out about the trainee house party…and what happened to Rachel. No, of course, she doesn’t found out about the drugging, but she does see through a video how much of a drunken mess Rachel was.
It’s at this point Rachel’s mother spouts the words that many “The Dark Side of K-pop” journalists and bloggers agree with: “I knew this K-pop would would be a bad influence. It’s poisoning you” and “This industry is toxic.”
Interestingly, Rachel’s response to this is: “It’s not toxic, Umma. It’s competitive. It only accepts the best from people.”
I flagged this sentence while I read because it basically encapsulates the mentality of some of these idols or wanna-be idols for sure. It also shows just how easy it is to turn a blind eye or excuse the toxicity found within the K-pop industry as a whole. I’m not necessarily a doom and gloom blogger of K-pop but I must say…while reading, I did root for Rachel to pursue her dreams, I found that her mother wasn’t completely in the wrong either. Also, what Rachel says about accepting “the best from people” is kind of a lie when you think about just how far one can go with some good luck and connections in the industry. It’s not about being the “best singer” or the “best rapper,” but how well you can appeal to the masses even when you fall into mediocrity and genericity. I mean, look at BTS.
Though I digress. The chapter ends with Rachel’s mother giving her an ultimatum: Rachel must debut by the time the DB Family Tour starts or be pulled from the company.
This chapter is also kinda skippable. You will basically read about the classic K-pop stressful and rather ridiculously strict weigh -ins where even gaining a pound will have you being called a fat elephant that would cause a wave pool just by sticking your pinky toe in. There’s that along with being fitted into ostentatious outfits and struggling remembering the dance moves and song lyrics despite practicing hours and hours on end to perfect them.
Nothing is easy for a K-pop trainee.
This chapter also includes another Rachel x Jason moment interspersed with providing us our first glimpse of the male/female double standard in the industry. Basically when Jason saunters in late to practice with a Lotteria burger and fries and the execs don’t even bat an eye but basically drool all over him. While Rachel is 3 minutes late and has to apologize.
This was a rather amusing chapter. Leah, Rachel’s younger sis (in case you forgot), has gotten tickets to a NEXT BOYZ fan sign and though reluctant to go at first, Rachel eventually gives in for her sister’s sake and the sake of seeing the latest on brand fashion at the Style Dome, the venue of the fan sign. However, they start a fan riot after some fans recognize Rachel from the viral video and rush her and Jason. Security is no match for these vivacious fan girls. Thankfully, the girls escape safe and sound and exhilarated in Leah’s case.
Oh, and Rachel gets Jason’s number at the fan sign. He puts himself as “Sweet Coffee Boy.” Let that sink in.
So Rachel and Mina are both having a hard time with certain parts of getting the song and choreo down correctly. Hence, Mina suggests to switch to parts that both are more comfortable with doing. Of course, this is going against the trainers and execs’ plan, but both think it’s a good idea anyway since they believe the switched parts fit them better (which they kinda do). But alas, when they perform the switched routine, it goes off without a hitch but the disrespect of taking matters into their own hands is too much for the execs which includes Mina’s father, Mr. Choo. This guy…this guy is the reason Mina is the way she is and the way he chews her out leaves some room for pity. Even Rachel feels sorry for her despite everything.
The Jeju chapter. Rachel’s school has organized a field trip for the students to visit Jeju Island. Here, we are presented with some romantic tension between the Cho twins and their mutual friend, Daeho. One twin likes Daeho but it appears Daeho likes the other twin. That’s all you need to know of that love triangle. All this while Rachel Kakaos Jason back and forth with guilty pleasure until she has an encounter with Kang Jina, the lead singer of Electric Flower, her sunbae at DB Entertainment and famous girl group member. Interestingly, she is with her boyfriend, a popular boy group idol.
“You want my advice about DB? Never get a boyfriend.”Kang Jina’s advice to Rachel on how to survive in D (page 182)
And literally 3 pages later Rachel agrees to go on a self-care day with Jason (oh, and Leah, of course).
The Tokyo chapter. Yes, Jason’s idea of a self-care day is to take the Kim girls to Tokyo, but more specifically Harajuku. It’s a fun romp all around until Leah, who had too many rainbow-colored sweet treats, ends up barfing that all up signaling an early return to Korea. Although, on the plane ride back, Rachel and Jason have a vulnerable moment where they slowly start to open up to each other.
I didn’t mention before though if you read the profile you can see that Jason is quite similar to Rachel. He was born and raised abroad (in Toronto though) and considers himself Korean Canadian. His mother was Korean and his father is white, by the way.
“I feel like I’m constantly straddling two world. Too white to be Asian, too Asian to be white. It’s like I’m tricking everyone on both sides, trying to convince them that I belong, when truthfully, I’m not sure exactly where I fit.”Jason to Rachel (page 195)
This leads him to confess a bit later that he feels that he can be himself when he’s around Rachel and that he feels good to be around her. In turn, Rachel feels trapped in the same situation: having to put on a show for others, being trapped between two worlds as a Korean-American. However, just as it seems Jason is going to confess his feelings to Rachel, Leah, who had been sleeping through all this, awakes and disrupts the moment.
Siblings, am I right?
Well, if this book doesn’t read like chuunibyoiu fanfiction between a trainee and rising idol than buckle up because we still have 12 chapters to go. Dear God…will anyone even read this far in my post?
In this chapter, “Summer Heat” performed by Jason, Mina, and Rachel will finally be made into a music video – a live music video. That means no retakes or do-overs. There’s tension, but I’ll just end it by saying they rock it.
No, what matters in this chapter is that Rachel and Jason share their first kiss. Yup, even with Jina’s warning ringing in her head, she risks the last 6 years of K-pop training and nearly being pulled from DB for a boy she’s only known for, what? Like less than a month at least. Not to mention, she will be the one who suffers more as a trainee than Jason who is an established and rather popular male idol. Plus, we all know how horrible the double standards in this industry are. The death flag has appeared and is slowly rising.
Alright, that’s enough. I think that’s a good cliffhanger. Wow, a cliffhanger in a review? How terrible am I? But no, seriously, I felt that this post was getting too long and because the lengthy text isn’t separated by pictures at the very least I can cut this into two parts, so hey, if this interests you enough read on to part 2 when I add it. If not, I hope you enjoyed your stay.
Just how will Rachel and Jason’s relationship progress despite all the warning signs that this is NOT in any circumstances a good idea? And will Rachel really make it as a trainee and debut given these complications and more obstacles to come? Stay tuned for the next part where I finally finish this dang summary “review” and reveal all.