I’m a fan of K-pop. Granted I’m not as big a fan as most of my friends are.
My twitter timeline seems to be made up of 10% sports, 25% gamers, 25% demonry and, whatever else is left is kpop. I’m not good at math, okay?
Don’t judge me.
I know about Girls Generation. Back when life was normal and we were allowed to roam freely without fear of catching the plague I would walk and dance around the park to Gee and Run Devil Run.
I’m not in the know for why Miss Jessica Jung left Girl’s Generation exactly. I know that she started a very successful clothing brand that clashed with her groups’ activities and was subsequently voted out. Buuut I don’t have all the tea, you know?
All the good tea.
I wasn’t looking at Shine for a messy tell all. I’m not sure if we should take it as such either. I see it as insight into the K-Pop industry which is notorious for how strenuous, toxic, and abusive the nature and the background of it is. It’s been in the spotlight most recently due to the tragic suicides of Choi Jin-ri, aka Sulli of f(x), Goo Hara of Kara, and Kim Jong-hyun of Shinee. May they all rest in peace and may we try to set a better precedent for them in the future.
The industry is brutal. From training to debut to mainstream fame. Training to debut can last YEAARS and the thing is debuting isn’t concrete. It’s not certain.
It’s even harder when you do break out as a group. Now you must maintain perfection.
In Shine we are introduced to 17 year old Rachel Kim. Rachel wasa recruited by DB Entertainment 6 years ago. What’s DB Entertainment? Well – just one of the world’s largest K-Pop labels. Their rules are simple. Train 24/7, be perfect, no social media, and no dating.
Rachel can do that…right? As the years tick by and she’s yet to debut she becomes less positive. The industry’s demons have more than exposed themselves to her and she’s not sure if she’s cut out for this. To make matters worse why now of all times did K-Pop heart throb Jason Lee have to show up just for her to grow a crush on him?
Rachel has to figure out what exactly she wants and how badly she wants it because if not all of this could be for nothing. Worse. All of this could be for failure.
I went into reading Shine expecting the average, feel good poppy chick-lit. I didn’t get that. I got something much darker than that. Right away we are introduced to Rachel who is doing idol training with a group of fellow trainees. It doesn’t go well. Rachel’s personality is basically dissected, eviscerated, served to us Hannibal Lecter style.
And AFTERWARDS we find out that she is not well liked or like liked at all by the co-trainees as they mock her, look down at her for being Korean American and smirk at her “overbearing” mother who doesn’t let her live in the training house. Their behavior towards Rachel only gets worse and even more sadistic as the book goes on. These girls are warped.
And they’re not the only ones. The executives and trainers are worse. They say it’s training but it’s definitely more like boot camp. The girls are weighed weekly, sometimes daily which of course forces them to starve, they wake freakishly early, there’s casual flippant talk of plastic surgery, one girl is forced to sing and is hit in the stomach while doing so. It’s a lot. It’s eye opening and I love the fact that Jessica Jung manages to write these hard truths while still maintaining an air of bubble gum lightness. Shine is bright and fun. When the characters perform you can hear the melody, see the glittering costumes and bright eyed smiles. We’ve all heard that song. We know the bops.
There’s romance, of course there’s romance. And it’s cute and a smile played on my lips the entire time. It’s just too perfect. We’ve all been in that situation. Er – not with a super famous K-pop boy maybe. But texting someone we really like even though we know it’s a bad idea. Right? RIGHT?
Although the book isn’t perfect and there are more than a few loose ends that need to be tied up. Shine surprises in subtle yet big ways. What I like most about the story is Rachel’s determination to not let anything or anybody stop her from her goal. Not the gremlin girls she trained with, not her mother’s lack of support, not a boy, not herself. She keeps it pushing even when she does need to stop and think of herself. That is a cautionary tale in itself.
I look forward to seeing the upcoming movie and reading the sequel. Now you may all rec me some K-pop.
Thanks very much to Netgalley and the Publisher for this copy of my ARC. All opinions are my own.
Expected publication: September 29th 2020 by Simon Pulse