A huge thank you to the authors for reaching out and offering me a free digital copy in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book.
I have to admit I’m not deep into the K-pop scene. Maybe if I were younger and BTS (lol) had come around then like they are now, then perhaps yes. I had my moments when I was in high school though. Yet being Korean made me want to review this book and give it honest criticism as the book is written by two white women.
Content warning(s): depression, grief, mentions of suicide, death of a loved one
Title: Comeback: A K-pop Novel
Author(s): Lyn Ashwood and Rachel Rose
Publisher: Ashwood & Rose
Release date: June 8, 2019
Genre: Contemporary, romance
Length: 262 pages
Synopsis: (via Goodreads) “Emery Jung is living his dream. Known by his stage name M, he is loved by millions of fans around the world as a member of the rising K-pop group NEON, but all fame comes with a cost, especially when one slip up can have viral consequences.
Alana Kim is trying to forget. After a tragic loss sends her spiraling, she escapes to her family in Korea, abandoning her love of music along the way. However, her plans are derailed when she literally runs into M, the famous K-pop idol.
When their paths collide, Emery and Alana must work together to prevent a scandal from ruining NEON’s success, sparking a journey of friendship, love, and healing. Unfortunately, fame and love aren’t easily compatible, especially in the world of K-pop.”
This book straddles the line between young adult and new adult. For now, I’m going to label it as new adult since the two main characters, Emery and Alana, are both in their early twenties. This book explores tough issues like depression, grief after losing a loved one, and talk of suicide. I didn’t realize quite how heavy the book would be when I started. It also explores the harsh rules and regulations put on K-pop bands (I’ve heard rumors about strict diets, exercise, etc., but nothing as specific as what is mentioned in the book so I can’t validate, obviously, how truthful some of these are). The story itself was pretty good. Emery and Alana both struggle internally, and I think if it weren’t for their reunion, they wouldn’t have been able to come to terms for what this internal struggles mean for them and what they need to do to break out of it. Some of Emery’s problems eventually became external and affected those around him, but it allowed him to become closer to his bandmates as well, which solidified their friendship as a band.
This story takes place in Seoul, but to be honest, I would have never known. I’ve read two other books (Rebel Seoul and Wicked Fox) that both take place in Seoul, and they truly enveloped me in the city. Unfortunately, Comeback did not do that for me. It could have taken place in any city for all I know. Seoul is known for so many great things, but it felt lackluster here. I feel like a lot of innate parts of Korean culture were lost.
I really enjoyed NEON as a band and as Emery’s bandmates and friends. The authors don’t shy away from showing the mixture of personalities and disagreements between them. As for Emery and Alana, their lives aren’t perfect, and they’re a bit shy when it comes to sharing their struggles with each other, Alana most of all. I admit it was odd how Alana and others viewed her as Korean-American. I can’t speak to the truth of this here either, as I’m half-Korean and have never lived in S. Korea. Alana says her Korean is like that of a 10-year-old’s. Even after mentioning she spoke Korean with her family back home in America. I thought this was a bit odd. Sure, some things might be missed since Alana grew up in America, not Korea, but in terms of language, I thought this was something she could fully grasp. Alana often felt relieved because she doesn’t have to converse in Korean. A little weird to me, if I’m being honest.
Two other scenes had Alana calling herself American when someone pointed out her accent, while another had her saying she is Korean-American. I mean, both are true, but it seems like Alana isn’t quite sure where to place herself while she’s actually living in S. Korea. Perhaps this was to make her more alienated than she already feels.
The writing style isn’t bad. I actually quite liked it despite not feeling completely convinced of the setting. Ashwood and Rose provide decent world-building under the circumstances. However, some of my concern focuses on the way things are written to make it easier for a non-Korean reader. This is a really small thing but the word “ramen” is often used when I’m quite certain the proper word is “ramyun.” I think using the correct Korean term is best instead of referring back to what people know as the Japanese ramen dish.
Also, the way some characters were introduced throughout the book really threw me for a loop. In many Asian cultures, Korean included, it’s proper to introduced yourself with your family name followed by your given name (or in a Western world, your last name and then your first name). The authors were not consistent in this area. If you wanted to make this more believable, when your characters are introducing themselves to others, make sure they do it the Korean way! Alana introduces herself and her cousin as Alana Kim and Stephanie Lim, when it should be Kim Alana and Lim Stephanie. The same goes to a few other characters as well. This irked me so much as I felt like the authors did a disservice to the culture they’re writing about!
Maybe if I had been more in love with K-pop, I would have enjoyed this book more, or if I were more confident that the authors would do justice to my culture, I would have enjoyed it more.
Check out these other reviews:
- Alex over at Bri’s Book Reviews absolutely loved this book and gave it a whopping 6 (out of 5, LOL) stars!
- Aimee from Aimee, Always gushed about this book in her quick review.
- Sakura at Fiction Over Reality gave this book 3.5 stars.