352 pgs. | $18.99 hardcover, $10.99 Kindle Edition
To say Shine is a bit of a disaster is a bit of an overstatement considering My Summer of Love and Fortune is the worst I’ve read in 2020, but this isn’t too far off. At least the latter was bad enough it was actually starting to be funny at a certain point. This one turned out to be more painful.
In her debut novel, Jessica Jung takes us into the life of a trainee in a top tier company (forgot the name) as Rachel tries to chase her dreams of debuting as a K-pop idol, knowing the longer she’s been training, the older she gets and the less chances she has to debut. Unlike other trainees, she’s not required to stay in the dorms with the others, which puts her as more of an outcast than she already is. The constant thorn in her side is Mina, another trainee at the company who constantly seeks opportunities to show Rachel doesn’t belong and would happily see her being kicked out. So when she gets the chance to be featured in a song with Jason, the golden boy of the company, she jumps at the chance because she knows this is her chance to show she is ready for the debut.
Shine doesn’t give us a look into the K-Pop industry as some would expect, especially from an author who was an international K-Pop star of a renowned group (Girls’ Generation, also known as SNSD). Rather, it takes what’s already known by those who have been following K-Pop for a while: the harsh training environment, the long schedules, the constant competition, etc. Jung’s debut novel is engrossing and quick to read, but it also glossed over opportunities to flesh out the story further. At the same time, there are plenty of parallels (perhaps more dramatized and exaggerated even) to SNSD that are hard to miss for those who have been following the group, despite the fictionalization. Personally, this was a little hard for me to pick up Shine when I heard about the possible parallels, especially as SNSD is the first group that got me into K-Pop in the first place, and Jessica’s departure is the time I began to edge away from listening to K-Pop for a few years.
Quite frankly, I think Shine would have been a lot better if it were divided into two books than the one we got (plus whatever the sequel will entail), because I’ve honestly forgotten half the details we did get, like how Rachel was recruited in the first place and why her Umma is as unsupportive as she is. It instead resulted in what seems like a rough draft with flat characters all across the board. Rachel becomes much like Mina and the other trainees as the story goes on, which feels like the opposite of character growth. Mina doesn’t have much of a purpose other than being an antagonist (hell, Rachel’s Umma could fall under this too). There’s a brief moment in the book where we see a little more of her than what we get of her for most of the book, but it’s just a flash and the story continues. Jason is, well… Jason. He’s just there as a pretty boy who believes in the company doing no harm when he and the other males get away with a shit load of stuff. It’s gross, if you ask me. I just wanted at least one person to like, but alas that person might be Leah, who is the supportive sibling of Rachel but is really having a difficult time on her own.
Everything feels rushed, especially the last few chapters, with an ending that is seemingly happy but at the same time brings curiosity to what could be coming next. Unfortunately, as much as this book kept me turning pages, the lack of details and boring characters doesn’t entice me into wanting to read the sequel. If you’re wanting a book with K-Pop, you’re better off reading others, like I’ll Be The One by Lyla Lee. | Hannah Sophia Lin