ARC Review: “Shine” by Jessica Jung

Content warnings: slut-shaming, body-shaming, fatphobia, drugging someone, racism, verbal abuse, sexism

Thank you to Simon Pulse for the digital ARC via NetGalley. All opinions are my own!

Title: Shine
Author: Jessica Jung
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release date: September 29, 2020
Genre: Young adult, contemporary
Length: 352 pages (hardcover)
Synopsis: (via Goodreads) “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.”

Okay, I’m giving this book a reluctant 4 stars, mainly due to the content warnings and what felt like and endlessness to the slut-shaming and body-shaming. I absolutely love the premise of this book, especially since K-pop has become a huge thing over the past few years. (Middle school Nicole is very happy about this.) I didn’t recognize the author’s name initially, but I’ve heard of the K-pop group she was in, so immediately I was intrigued. I did, however, find some general inconsistences which I hope has been fixed in the finished copy.

First, I want to start with the good stuff. I enjoyed the main character, Rachel, as a person. I loved the relationship she has with her young sister, Leah; the begrudging one she has with her mom; and the very relaxed one she has with her dad. This book definitely gets an A+ for family dynamics, where parents are actually being parents and not simply trying to be “friends” with their children. I also liked the friendship between Rachel and the twins, and how they’re all trying to juggle school in the midst of Rachel also trying to juggle life as a K-pop trainee. Rachel’s budding romance with Jason, a member of an extremely popular K-pop boy band, was pretty cute, too, and I loved that he’s biracial, half-white, half-Korean. I also liked how Rachel pointed out the blatant sexism in the K-pop industry to Jason, who remained oblivious until… Well, he learned.

Now I know we’ve all heard stories about how training to be a K-pop star and maintaining status as a K-pop star is pretty horrendous. This book pretty much follows these stereotypes, so there’s a lot of body-shaming in regards to how certain characters look physically, what they’re eating, etc., and some pretty heavy-handed verbal abuse to some characters as a whole. This turns my stomach and makes me pretty sad. Tied into this is what seems to the incessant need for each of the female K-pop trainees to constantly go at each other, doing everything but getting into actual fist fights. I had really high hopes for Rachel’s “rival”, Mina, where I thought the two would reconcile things toward the end. Well… I’ll let y’all read the story to find out if that actually happens. The constant back-and-forth between these two really got on my nerves though because just when you think there’s a breakthrough something comes up to ruin it all over again. I want to empathize with Mina because it becomes obvious that she’s under a lot of pressure from her father due to her family’s connection this particular K-pop label. It’s extremely frustrating to read.

One of the things that bothered me was how Rachel continues to say she’s been training for six years, which would make her 11 when she started. Again, this is me not knowing the truth in regard to how young people actually are when they become a K-pop trainee but… 11? Also, there a few times when Rachel’s name is announced not in the Korean way, Kim Rachel. Instead it was announced using her first name followed by her last name. I found this rather odd because this didn’t happen with Jason (Lee) or the other K-pop trainee with a Western first name, Lizzie (Im). I don’t know if it wasn’t done the Korean way for emphasis but it irked me. Of all the things!

The writing was enjoyable to read and the world-building was good, too. I loved that we were also able to experience the Korean life outside of this K-pop centric world Rachel lives in.

Check out these other reviews:

  • Amanda at aelilyreads wrote such an in-depth review and mentiond the harshness of K-pop training.
  • Joy at The Joyful Reader gave this book 4 stars, too!
  • Meg at Bibliophilogy loved the story but struggled to find chemistry between the two love interests.

You can purchase this book from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Book Depository, or through your local indie with IndieBound.

4 thoughts on “ARC Review: “Shine” by Jessica Jung

  1. jess @ crowing about books says:

    This book has been on my radar because I’ve just been recently getting into K-pop (and I find there’s a LOT of K-pop books coming out???). I’ve heard about how brutal being a trainee can be, and I’m really interested in how this book presents it because the author was in the thick of it for so long, so she knows firsthand. I think some trainees start pretty young, too, which considering some of what they go through sounds horrendous. Great review and I can’t wait to read this book!


  2. amanda says:

    this is such a great review. the slut shaming and such did get to me as well and I was so shocked at the way mina treated her like with the alcohol and I too wanted to feel for her but she is not a sympathetic character.

    thanks so much for the link back 💕 awesome review.

    Liked by 1 person

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