After training six years to be DB Entertainment’s newest K-pop star, Rachel Kim is so close to making it. She just has to train, train and train some more until she can finally prove her spot. One viral incident has her thrust into the spotlight beside DB Ent’s golden boy, Jason Lee. But the harsh realities of trainee life begins to strain on Rachel as she starts to doubt herself. And any mistake can risk everything.
I have to be honest, I went into this book with low expectations as my experience with most celebrity-penned novels have resulted in some mediocre reading experiences. I thought even being a SONE for years now would colour my judgement. But Shine might be the most disappointing book that I have read this year. From the writing, characters and plot, nothing in this book shines through.
The only decent thing I could say about this book was that it is readable. I flew through the story at a decent pace, but then again, I just wanted the story to be over with. So take that with a pinch of salt. The pacing was all over the place. One chapter would end like a drama, but the next would continue as if nothing was wrong. Much of the writing was so inconsistent which made the story rather dull and boring. Jung fails to make you feel anything but annoyance towards every person we encounter in this book, including our very own Rachel Kim.
Let’s talk about the plot. Rachel has been a trainee for six years and due to her mother, she is a part-time trainee, only going to train on the weekend. Her company is rumoured to be debuting a new girl group, and this is Rachel’s only chance before she believes she will “age” out the system. But she also has to go up against company mean girl Mina, a golden spoon trainee, who is out for Rachel’s throat. An opportunity to make her mark is botched by Mina, and Rachel gets her revenge by making a viral video that puts her in the limelight, alongside Jason Lee. Shine was an eventful story that was extremely boring. The plot is essentially pulled along by common K-drama tropes to the point where you could guess what was happening. The perfect, pretty female lead, mean girl is Mean, catching the attention of the boy through quirky but cringe pick up lines. This isn’t always a bad thing, but in Shine, it was setting yourself up for even more disappointment because the writing is so mediocre.
These characters are nothing to me, completely cardboard. Rachel Kim is the perfect trainee, hated by all because the CEO favours her for some strange reason. Yet, she can’t complete basic dance moves, struggles to pass media training, and I don’t even recall if she’s that great of a singer. We’re just told she has gone through six years of training and expected to believe she is amazing. Rachel is rather selfish, and it was surprising how self-absorbed she is considering she criticises Mina for her bad behaviour. I didn’t want to believe the comments that Rachel is simply a self-insert for Jessica until halfway through Rachel starts to babble on about how much fashion means to her. I truly had a record-scratching moment there because it literally comes out of nowhere. How are we supposed to believe fashion is this passion of hers when all that ever comes out of her mouth is “I’m a six-year-trainee.” I mentioned K-drama tropes and Rachel could quite be the poster child for one. She’s a poor girl, whose family moved to South Korea to pursue her dreams. Her mother is overbearing while her father secretly attends law school on the side while running his gym. Her sister is the loud, obnoxious sibling who I actually felt bad for because she was quite literally being bullied and it’s all ignored.
Mina is our villain, the daughter of a businessman, and we obviously are meant to hate her because she gets in the way of Rachel’s dreams and her dream man. The book attempts to make a statement about the sexism within the K-pop industry. Rachel makes some great comment about the treatment the girls receive versus the boys. However, Rachel’s own internalised misogyny goes unchecked while she’s allowed to criticise everyone else for their own shallow behaviour. Rachel finds herself happy to see the other trainee receive abuse from their company, but when it becomes a problem to her, suddenly, it’s unacceptable and the system is messed up.
Jason Lee was just annoying. Another case of the author wants them to be together, but the effort to make to develop them were incredibly cliche and frankly very cringe-inducing. Because we know they’ll end up together, so the attempt to develop them was rather poorly put together. I was so frustrated at Rachel for even risking her career for this fool. Rachel also has three close friends and I could not tell you one important thing about them. Aside from Akari, a Japanese trainee, who is supposed to be Rachel’s best friend, but she’s conveniently ignored for most of the novel, aside from the moments where Rachel wants to emphasis their foreign position within the company. Rachel being an American-Korean, and Akari being Japanese, but I felt bad for Akari more because Rachel still gets better treatment.
Overall, Shine was a lacklustre debut that doesn’t really live up the hype it was given. Normally, I wouldn’t say this, but I would rather this book be ghost-written because to believe Jessica actually wrote this is rather embarrassing. It’s marketed as this profound novel that shines a light onto the K-pop industry when really it only ever covers a surface level that most fan will know. Some moments truly felt borderline fanfiction. I want to believe Jessica used her own experiences in some scenes and for some moments, I did, but this story was slapped together and reads more like a koreaboo’s wish fulfilment fantasy, than an actual decent story.