Book Reviews

Shine by Jessica Jung: ARC Book Review

This is a spoiler-free review.

Shine by Jessica Jung

Expected publication September 29th, 2020 by Simon Pulse.

My rating:

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

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.

Thank you to the publisher, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers/Canada, and NetGalley for providing me with an e-ARC of this book. All thoughts are my own.

I first heard about Shine by Jessica Jung from a text my girlfriend sent me in the middle of night asking me to request it on Netgalley. 😂 She was a HUGE SNSD/Girls Generation fan back in the day (let’s be honest, she totally still is), and was super excited to hear THE Ice Princess herself, Jessica Jung, had written a book about her experience as a K-pop star.

Before even reading this book I knew who Jessica Jung was. I heard enough stories from my girlfriend to know all the drama surrounding her and her former girl group members/entertainment company. Right away I found it clear the protagonist of Shine, Rachel Kim, was meant to be a stand-in for Jessica Jung herself. The two were both originally from NYC, hated cucumbers with a burning passion, lived with their parents while training with SM – er, DB, dreamt about starting their own fashion line… I could go on.

What was less clear was how the other characters in the story represented the other members of Girls Generation. And this was done with obvious intention. Jung is smart; she manages to meld her lived experience as a K-pop trainee/star with the fictitious plot points in this story perfectly, making all except for a very few exceptions hard to separate fact from fiction.

She was definitely spilling the Tea 🍵, but it’s done in a way that avoids breaking any of the NDAs she’s totally had to sign. 😉

This book was a crazy ride! It felt pretty unrealistic…

Some of the plot points, particularly the frenemy/rivalry between Rachel and Mina felt immature and unnecessary, and I often questioned both of the girls motives – even Rachel’s, whose perspective the story was told from. It felt like she (Jung) was trying to justify Rachel’s behaviour by implying Mina was worse; but honestly the whole ordeal made me find Rachel a much less compelling and likeable character.

The romance between Rachel and Jason Lee was not my favorite, though I did like how the novel left it at the end. As a Canadian, I also enjoyed all the little references Jason made to our home country. 😂 Overall though, his character was pretty hard to bare, but I don’t think that was necessarily unintentional on Jung’s part, so I can forgive it.

What I did really love however was the pointed critiques of the K-pop industry that Jung embedded within her novel. That was truly where this story – and Jung as an author – shone. (No pun intended.) Jung didn’t shy away from anything; from the immense pressure the entertainment execs place on their trainees, to the unhealthy body expectations, and the blatant sexism of the industry. And watching all that culminate in Rachel changing from a naive hopeful trainee to a cynical star was a gripping transition, and made me even more excited to see what Jung has planned for her upcoming sequel. 💫

Do you listen to K-pop?

Let me know!

Liza is a twenty-something book blogger who spends way too much time with her nose in books and feels way too much. She loves cooking, baking, reality tv show watching and, of course, reading. She can be found most often with a cup of tea in one hand and a book in the other. Her blog, Literary Liza, features bookish content like reviews, recommendations, and author interviews.


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