For those of you who aren’t in the know, Shine is a YA novel about a young Korean girl named Rachel who wants to become a kpop star. Written by Jessica Jung of SNSD fame, it was both touted as a completely fictional piece that would let you live the life of a budding kpop star.
The same Jessica Jung who was part of Kpop royalty during her time at SM Entertainment. And the same Jessica Jung who got embroiled in a scandal which led to her getting blacklisted in the industry. I have no comment on that scandal or about Jessica as a person. I don’t know enough about it to comment.
For Shine, however, I have plenty of opinions.
Fair warning, guys. This is a spoiler talk. It’s not a joke. Click through here and there be spoilers.
If you haven’t read my review of Shine by Jessica Jung, you can check it out here.
If not? Let’s start spoiling some plot points.
The Vomit Comet
So right off the bat, I guess I have to give Shine props for individuality. I can’t think of another romantic YA novel that employs puke like this one does. Is puking cute? Did I miss the memo?
I’m someone who has a really weak stomach. Watching Knives Out was enough to make me physically sick, but this book wasn’t much better. Rachel, our main character is drugged the night before an important audition. While it starts off shaky, the love interest of the book swoops in to save the day.
Rachel gets to do a duet with THE Jason Lee and then pukes all over his shoes. Keep in mind that they’d just had a really amazing moment singing together and maybe this was meant to keep Rachel humble.
So why is there a second puke scene?
During a date that they’re having, Rachel’s sister eats too much food in Japan and projectile vomits rainbows all over Rachel. It was chunky and gross and why?!
Jessica Jung, is there something you’d like to explain? This has the same icky feeling of when I found out that Yoochun from JYJ has a bathroom fetish.
Jason Lee, the main love interest in the book, is Canadian. I was hoping that he’d be a Henry Lau type. Maybe he was meant to be, who knows? All I know is that we end up with the Canadian stereotypes and I can’t stand those in any kind of media.
I really hate the Canadian stereotypes in books. I don’t know who they’re there for. Fellow Canadians, do you love the maple and timbit references? My eyes roll right out of my head. Just throw in a toque, some ehs, and a no doot aboot it.
I think I must be the only one bothered though. I’ve seen positive goodreads reviews on this book that were really into these Canadian references. So good on the book? For me saying that Jason smells like maple just makes me think of sticky syrup which isn’t… a hot guy smell?
It had that moment of name-dropping places in Toronto and the surrounding areas which I guess should have made me feel seen. Instead I just felt pandered to. This isn’t a Shine specific gripe, but it drives me crazy so I’m putting it in here.
A Novel About Empowerment That Shits on Women
Cards on the table, I struggled to connect with Rachel. She’s the type of YA protagonist that acts like she’s hard up. But at the same time, Rachel knows that she’s given the special treatment.
The way that other people act around her is vile, don’t get me wrong, but there’s no sympathy for them or their feelings. Obviously bullying people isn’t the right way to go. But if they’re angry that Rachel gets special treatment? She does. I can’t blame them for being angry. In the end, I can only blame them for how they react to her having that special treatment.
There isn’t a single character that doesn’t feel flat.
Every woman aside from Rachel and her sister are villains. Jason and the men in the industry aren’t looked at the same way, instead the focus of Rachel’s ire is the women in her life. Jason’s not evil, but he is just as dumb as everyone else . He could have been more of a villain. He should have been more of a villain.
There was a very brief moment where it looked like we were going to get some sympathy and collaboration between Rachel and her main rival. It didn’t last more than a couple chapters.
At the very least I can appreciate that Rachel and Jason didn’t end up together at the end of this book. Careers over men, ladies! Don’t throw away your career for a man. The right man won’t force you to do that.
The Premise is Flawed from the Beginning
Shine is a narrative that would have been better served by someone starting from the bottom. If it were a rags to riches story about someone clawing their way up the ladder, it would be more impactful. Instead, it’s the story about a privileged girl chasing her dream.
Maybe Rachel’s family isn’t flat out rich like some of the other women in the book, but there’s no denying she’s lucky. What’s the theme here? What’s the lesson?
Work hard and chase your dreams? Rachel has all these privileges that she takes for granted.
Let’s talk about privilege:
- Rachel has a loving, supportive family who may not understand her dream, but they’re far from abusive. Even if they don’t 100% support her dream, they are here and letting her chase it.
- To be in the trainee system at all, Rachel’s family is fairly well off. Most idol trainees need to come from wealthy families or else they can’t afford the cost of training.
- Rachel has special favours from the president of the company that allows her to work for the company in a way that her mother can agree with, allowing her to chase her dream. Most idols are not able to go to school regularly while they’re training.
- Following what I said about school, Rachel gets to go to do things that other idols are flat out not allowed to. Which means, she’s naturally talented enough that she gets little favours that others might not get. The company believes in her talent enough to let her do these things.
- Rachel has help from one of the trainers that gives her little boosts and helps to keep her out of trouble despite her not being a trainee. They even are instrumental in helping her get back on her feet after the puke incident.
- She should have been kicked out of the running right away, but she got a hand from a senior idol to help her move forward in her job.Twice. In a way that other trainees never got to have and probably never will get to have.
Bullying is an epidemic in the industry and Shine makes light of it
There are so many idols that commit suicide in Korea. Sometimes it’s because of netizens hounding them. Other times, it’s because of the stress of the job. And other times it’s because they’re getting bullied by their band members. Bullying and depression is a serious problem that multiple people that Jessica would know have died from.
Depression runs rampant and the bullying in Shine is monstrous, but the reactions to it don’t match. It comes across as something that belongs in Mean Girls rather than a kpop novel written by someone with insider knowledge.
There’s no denying that Rachel is in a toxic training environment, but it’s like that for a lot of trainees. There is too much emphasis on the flaws in her fellow trainees characters and not enough on the problems in the industry.
It’s a very hard environment to come out of and I’m not saying that the bullying is right, but there are a lot of “oh, woe is me” moments without acknowledging her privileges. Or reflecting on why someone might treat her that way.
There’s no attempt to know people outside of herself. The bullying never knocks Rachel down. It never stops her, but it doesn’t feel like it challenges her either.
Even the scenes with her sister getting bullied feel shallow. Mustache twirling villains who cackle as they tie the poor Kim sisters to the train tracks.
Date Rape Drugs Shouldn’t Be a Throwaway Plot Point
For those of you who don’t know, there was a huge upheaval in the kpop industry when Seungri (formerly of Big Bang) was accused of criminal acts. From enabling prostitution to gambling to drugs and date rape, it broke down the shiny facade of the industry. Beyond that, there was a group chat where multiple male idols from popular groups would brag about drugging and raping women.
The took photos and videos without the consent of their victims. They raped them. They shared the videos among their friends and laughed about it. I’m not going to go into more detail here, but you can read the wikipedia page about Burning Sun.
In Shine, Rachel is drugged by a fellow trainee while she’s at a party. Drugging Rachel is a way to take degrading pictures of her for blackmail purposes. To use this as a throwaway plot point which never really keys into the bigger story, is disgusting. Jessica Jung knows what happens in the industry. Why is she doing this?
Because if she uses this excuse, then it’s not Rachel’s fault that she doesn’t make it to the audition.
It’s just a plot point and it never should have been made one. Not if it wasn’t going to comment on the wider state of the industry. Or if it wasn’t going to talk about predatory men in the entertainment companies, both young and old.
Not if it’s just going to make things a little harder for Rachel. She could have overslept. Her phone could have died, her mother could have delayed her. She could have missed her train.
There are a million things that could have happened that would have still made things more difficult for Rachel without bringing in date rape drugs.
What’s the verdict?
I think it’s very clear that I didn’t like Shine as a storyh. Maybe I just couldn’t take it in the light hearted way that it was meant to be taken. I know it’s supposed to be escapist and fluffy, but I couldn’t shake the underlying bitterness in this novel.
I’m not saying that Jessica Jung is bitter. It looks like she’s thriving to me. But even if she’s not bitter currently, it doesn’t mean that she’s not bitter about those memories.
You can hear it come out in the way that Rachel’s rivals are described. In the way that we’re meant to feel like Rachel is the only deserving person for these special perks.
It leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
Still, I’m very curious to hear what other people thought about it. Based on its Goodreads rating alone, I’m very much in the minority.
Do you have any suggestions or are there things you think I’ve missed? Leave a comment below. Or if you want more posts like this? Sign up today and never miss a post!