3 star, YA

Review: Made in Korea by Sarah Suk

Frankly in Love meets Shark Tank in this feel-good romantic comedy about two entrepreneurial Korean American teens who butt heads—and maybe fall in love—while running competing Korean beauty businesses at their high school.

There’s nothing Valerie Kwon loves more than making a good sale. Together with her cousin Charlie, they run V&C K-BEAUTY, their school’s most successful student-run enterprise. With each sale, Valerie gets closer to taking her beloved and adventurous halmeoni to her dream city, Paris.

Enter the new kid in class, Wes Jung, who is determined to pursue music after graduation despite his parents’ major disapproval. When his classmates clamor to buy the K-pop branded beauty products his mom gave him to “make new friends,” he sees an opportunity—one that may be the key to help him pay for the music school tuition he knows his parents won’t cover…

What he doesn’t realize, though, is that he is now V&C K-BEAUTY’s biggest competitor.

Stakes are high as Valerie and Wes try to outsell each other, make the most money, and take the throne for the best business in school—all while trying to resist the undeniable spark that’s crackling between them. From hiring spies to all-or-nothing bets, the competition is much more than either of them bargained for.

But one thing is clear: only one Korean business can come out on top.

With more Asian own voices stories coming out in YA lately, I knew Made in Korea had to be on my list to read. While I enjoyed the Korean elements throughout, from k-pop to Korean beauty products and Asian family dynamics, it doesn’t stand out among the other contenders I’ve been reading. What does make it interesting is the business aspect of running student businesses in school.

Valerie and her cousin Charlie have been the top student-run business for the last few years. Having an inside person (Charlie’s dad who lives in Korea) send them shipments of Korean beauty products allows them to sell to students who are craving the latest trend that’s hard to get in North America. I liked this idea a lot, and it’s especially relatable as I personally like Asian beauty products myself. V&C K-BEAUTY was therefore a fun concept to follow along for Valerie.

Enter the competition, Wes. Starting high school in senior year is rough but he unwittingly puts himself in competition with Valerie when he starts selling k-pop merch from a group called Crown Tiger in order to make friends. While I’m not super into k-pop myself, I know many people who are and it’s no joke how far people will go for anything related to the stars they love and admire.

Each of them have their reasons for wanting to sell as much product as possible. Valerie dreams of taking her grandmother,whom she’s very close to, on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Paris before she cannot go due to health reasons. She wants to prove to her tiger mom that she’s capable like her older sister who she’s always being compared to. Talk about Asian weariness when I read this. While it’s true for many friends and their parents I know, it makes me sometimes a little sad that it’s such a thing so many people have to go through in their families.

Wes, on the other hand, wants to save up moneyto attend music school. It’s his dream but his parents just don’t understand. As is the Asian way, they hope he would pursue a professional degree and take courses in science. So he needs to find it himself in order to even apply.

Both have such great reasons for what they need the money for. But poor communication keeps them at odds. A bet to give the other all of their savings from the year only makes it worse. They know they can only get enough money if they also attain the money the other business earned in the year. I couldn’t decide who I thought needed or deserved it more.

Personally I liked Wes more. Valerie put so much of her identity in her business to prove her self worth that she was willing to do things that were frankly shocking and rude. She saw people as customers or non-customers, and while she grows through this ordeal, I just didn’t like her as much as a person even when I sympathized with her situation.

The romance wasn’t as believable as I would have liked it. They weren’t exactly enemies but their poor communication just made things worse a lot of the time. Sure, I believe there’s attraction but I just didn’t root for them as a couple.

The best part of this story really was the resolution and growth that took place when they each confronted their families about the reasons why they wanted to earn the money. I liked that the author didn’t resolve everything into a perfect bow because families are more complicated than that but it gives hope that things can change with time and a bit of open mindedness.

All this is to say that Made in Korea had its unique elements, namely the business selling competition going on between our protagonists, and I loved the Korean references and culture seen throughout (like everyone’s huge love for bingsu!). I just wasn’t too invested in Wes and Valerie’s romantic relationship but I’m so here for everything else.

Overall Recommendation:

Made in Korea was a decent debut featuring Korean culture and influence. With rival Korean beauty student-businesses facing off their senior year, Valerie and Wes each fight for the best sales to achieve their dreams that feel so out of reach. I empathized with them, I wanted to hug them through the ordeals they faced with family, and I wished I had such student businesses in my high school. But as a romantic couple? I couldn’t feel it as deeply as I had hoped between Wes and Valerie but this story still wraps up a lot of wonderful concepts of family, self-worth and the experiences that shape us to still be a worthy book to add to your TBR, especially if you’re looking for more Asian own voices novels. I hope to see more from Sarah Suk one day.

5 star, YA

Review: If I’m Being Honest by Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka

High school senior Cameron Bright’s reputation can be summed up in one word: bitch. It’s no surprise she’s queen bee at her private L.A. high school—she’s beautiful, talented, and notorious for her cutting and brutal honesty. So when she puts her foot in her mouth in front of her crush, Andrew, she fears she may have lost him for good. 

In an attempt to win him over, Cameron resolves to “tame” herself, much like Katherine in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. First, she’ll have to make amends with those she’s wronged, which leads her to Brendan, the guy she labelled with an unfortunate nickname back in the sixth grade. At first, Brendan isn’t all that receptive to Cameron’s ploy. But slowly, he warms up to her when they connect over the computer game he’s developing. Now if only Andrew would notice…

But the closer Cameron gets to Brendan, the more she sees he appreciates her personality—honesty and all—and wonders if she’s compromising who she is for the guy she doesn’t even want.

Normally I am very picky when it comes to contemporaries. I enjoy them, they’re my guilty pleasures when I just want a solid read to fall in love with characters and the issues they have to overcome in their own lives, but very rarely do I do so in such a way that it makes me laugh and cry and feel for them the way I have with this book.

If I’m Being Honest features a protagonist I didn’t think I would love that much. Not only is she brutally honest to a fault – like, the word blunt has no meaning in her vocabulary – but she definitely falls under the category of mean girl more than your typical shy girl/people pleasers I find in YA contemporaries as our heroine. Yet, there is something refreshing about her because of this. The authors do not just write her as someone who is “bad” so simply, but is nuanced, especially in the way she becomes “better”.

Continue reading “Review: If I’m Being Honest by Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka”
4 star, YA

Review: Love & Olives by Jenna Evans Welch

Series: Love & Gelato #3

Santorini felt like an island holding its breath. As if it were keeping in a secret…

Liv Varanakis doesn’t like to think about her father much, which makes sense—he fled to Greece when she was only eight, leaving her with just a few painful memories of their shared love for the lost city of Atlantis. So when teenage Liv suddenly receives a postcard from her father, who explains that National Geographic is supporting a documentary about his theories on Atlantis—and asks if she will fly out to Greece and help—Liv is less than thrilled.

When she arrives in gorgeous Santorini, things are just as awkward as she’d imagined. There are so many questions, so many emotions that flood to the surface after seeing her father for the first time in years. Liv doesn’t want to get sucked back into her father’s world. She also definitely doesn’t want Theo, her father’s charismatic so-called protégé, to witness her struggle.

Even so, she can’t help but be charmed by everything Santorini has to offer—the beautiful sunsets, the turquoise water, the sun-drenched villages, and the delicious cuisine. But not everything on the Greek island is as perfect as it seems. Because as Liv slowly begins to discover, her father may not have invited her to Greece for Atlantis, but for something much more important.

What was lost is now found.

A slightly different take from her other travel inspired novels, Jenna Evans Welch takes us to the beautiful island of Santorini in this latest novel, Love & Olives. While we still get the chance to explore around and “see” the different tourist attractions here, it’s a lot less focal to the story. The main attraction is this: a hunt for the lost city of Atlantis.

That’s right, folks. They are searching for Atlantis. Liv’s father abandoned her when she was a child to go in search of his lifelong dream of Atlantis, and now she finds herself on Greek soil for the first time to join her father in his excursion. Sounds like there’s bound to be lots of intense emotions flying around on this vacation, hmm?

Continue reading “Review: Love & Olives by Jenna Evans Welch”