Let me begin by fully disclosing my past with Girls’ Generation. Because this group ushered in my love for Korean pop and Korean dramas way back in 2008, I feel this gives me unique knowledge of this industry’s world and who Jessica Jung is. I’ve followed all nine girls of Girls’ Generation – Tiffany, Taeyeon, Sunny, Hyoyeon, Seohyun, Sooyoung, Jessica, Yuri and Yoona – since “Gee” graced my ears one summer’s night while on break from classes. And yes, all their names are committed to memory. I credit both Girls’ Generation and their “brother” group SHINee for getting me through college, summers working on campus, my first break up, and years of loneliness that followed.
Fans of Girls’ Generation are called SONE, or, to credit a quick Google search as a refresher course: “To those who don’t know the meaning of SONE (the official Girls‘ Generation fansclub) please read this. Sone (소원) The word SONE came from the Korean word SOWON, which means “Wish”. If you pronounce both of it, you’ll notice that it has great similarity. This also means that Soshi is One. When Jessica Jung left the group in 2014, SONEs who broke from Girls’ Generation to form their own fan base for Jung were soon called Golden Stars by Jessica’s new agency, Coridel Entertainment.
As you can see, I know way too much about this already. Did it color my feelings about the book? It shouldn’t have, but it did. But, being an older individual who also writes stories, I feel I can provide a bit more insight than the average reader leaving a review over on Amazon. There was a time when I was a HUGE fan of Girls’ Generation. I listened to their songs playing MMPORGs. I own two of their albums (ten years ago access to Korean pop memorabilia wasn’t common, and I didn’t have a good job. So I couldn’t afford a lot of it), and a few other pieces.
I am now in my thirties, and not that into kpop anymore. But Girls’ Generation holds a special spot in my heart. When Jessica Jung, former member of GG (too much history there to get into in this blog post), announced pre-orders for her book titled SHINE back in September of this year, I approached it with trepidation. It’s written for young adults (the younger end of young adults), and it definitely feels like a Korean drama in book form. Now that’s fine if you’re into that kind of thing. They say to “write what you know,” and Jessica definitely knows that world. Below are links to several interviews where she discusses her thought processes when developing SHINE:
Here’s the synopsis
“Crazy Rich Asians meets Gossip Girl by way of Jenny Han in this knock-out debut about a Korean American teen who is thrust into the competitive, technicolor world of K-pop, from Jessica Jung, K-pop legend and former lead singer of one of the most influential K-pop girl groups of all time, 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.
Get ready as Jessica Jung, K-pop legend and former lead singer of Korea’s most famous girl group, Girls’ Generation, takes us inside the luxe, hyper-color world of K-pop, where the stakes are high, but for one girl, the cost of success—and love—might be even higher. It’s time for the world to see: this is what it takes to SHINE.”Source – Amazon
Now that all the introductory stuff is out of the way, let’s get into my thoughts on the first fifty pages of SHINE by Jessica Jung.
It reads like a fan fiction, and could’ve used another round of edits.
The fact that Ms. Jung chose to go with first person point of view was actually quite genius. Why? Readers are immediately immersed into Rachel’s world as Rachel herself. And, in many ways, Jessica’s world. Fans of Girls’ Generation (or even just fans of Jessica’s) would recognize little nuances, mannerisms and facts right away.
There were many missed punctuation marks, and many, many run-on sentences. In fact, one paragraph was nothing but two run-on sentences. You may say I’m nit-picking if you’d like, but as someone who’s also trying to finish a novel, seeing things like issues grammar and punctuation in a finished product isn’t very encouraging.
Unexplained tension right off the bat, from nearly everybody, towards the MC.
Not many things in Korean dramas are based in reality, or logic. Even with that knowledge going into SHINE, I don’t understand the level of hatred many have for Rachel. It’s not even logically explained. There’s a trainee introduction scene within the first fifteen pages, and it seems all anyone can do is gossip – no matter their age. Is gossip really this prevalent in Korean society? And why would a trainee’s senior, or “sunbae,” want to include them in their own group’s issues? (Here’s a link to a quick lesson about Korean honorifics).
We’re also given a quick flashback to Rachel’s early trainee days. It’s a few paragraphs long, but there’s nothing to distinguish it as a memory other than Rachel’s one friend (also not fully Korean) prompting her to tell the story again. The choice to include a flashback so early on just seemed to be an odd choice.
The prose drips with similarities to Jessica’s original company, SM Entertainment and Jessica herself.
Jessica doesn’t shy away from explaining her reasons for including scenes like this. She’s said that she didn’t want to go about writing an autobiography, but that nearly everything in the story is based off her life in some way.
Jessica, in an excerpt from the Teen Vogue article linked above, writes:
“The hallway is full of random toys and props used by the best of the best stars in worldwide concerts. Half of the paraphernalia has the insignias of Electric Flower and Kang Jina (a gold-plaque legend and the leader of the biggest and best girl group in K-pop for the last few years). They debuted at the top spot and never left it. When I joined DB, I worshipped those girls—Jina especially. I admire them even more now, knowing what they had to go through to get to where they are. But part of me wonders about the girls they left behind. The ones that didn’t make it in the group.” Will I be the one on top or the one left in the shadows?
Halls and “stores” and cafes showcasing a company’s idols are very common among Korea’s top five agencies. It’s a way for their managers to flex groups’ popularity, and encourage fans to come visit. So Jessica’s inclusion of a scene like this isn’t far fetched.
Moving on to Rachel Kim’s character. Rachel is a carbon copy of Jessica, with a few things changed so she wouldn’t be exactly like her. She’s got Jessica’s aversion to cucumbers, “Princess” nickname, and is Korean American. Just to name a few similarities. I don’t know about you, but I personally wouldn’t want a character exactly like me. Guess I’m not all that interesting?
Most definitely written for a younger young adult audience, an audience who’d most likely already know terminology used in kpop.
SHINE is, without a doubt, very appealing to a younger crowd. It uses lingo commonly used in Korean life, dramas, variety and awards shows. She mentions, in that same Time article, she likes having to look up words when she reads because it helps her learn. That’s why she included so much Korean in SHINE – to encourage her readers to learn something new if they don’t already know what something means. As a writer myself, I can appreciate her logic behind that. Not only that, but the language is part of her background, so why would she not include it?
I don’t imagine many folks not already familiar with Korea’s entertainment industries picking this book up. It’s written for an incredibly tailored audience. Even if you love reading young adult books, this may not be a story anyone can enjoy. Honestly? I strongly feel the only reason this made it to publication is Jessica’s name. It’s only receiving rave reviews because of her fans. If anyone else tried to publish this with all the errors found within the first fifty pages, their readers wouldn’t be so kind.
How do I feel about these pages, as someone who once called herself a SONE? Uncertain. I’m not sure I can keep reading due to the technical issues, and trying to figure out which events/people/circumstances is more exhausting than entertaining. Personally, I miss the good ol’ days of Girls’ Generation. The days of concerts, laughter and super fun music videos. It doesn’t help that fans can only speculate what actually happened between Jessica and the rest. Jessica claims she didn’t want SHINE to be an autobiography, but what if it really is?