10 00 p.m.: Lucky is the biggest K-pop star on the scene, and she’s just performed her hit song “Heartbeat” in Hong Kong to thousands of adoring fans. She’s about to debut on The Tonight Show in America, hopefully a breakout performance for her career. But right now? She’s in her fancy hotel, trying to fall asleep but dying for a hamburger.
11 00 p.m.: Jack is sneaking into a fancy hotel, on assignment for his tabloid job that he keeps secret from his parents. On his way out of the hotel, he runs into a girl wearing slippers, a girl who is single-mindedly determined to find a hamburger. She looks kind of familiar. She’s very cute. He’s maybe curious.
12:00 a.m.: Nothing will ever be the same.
Does anyone else just have the song Somewhere Only We Know stuck in their heads whenever you see this title? No? Just me?
I had the pleasure of reading this book as an audiobook during some down time, which definitely enhanced the experience in my opinion. Otherwise, this rating may have dropped by 1.
Somewhere Only We Know is reminiscent of Gayle Forman’s Just One Day type of romance wherein our protagonist sets out on some wild one-day adventure with someone new generally across a wonderful locale. Mix into this is the celebrity meets ordinary citizen trope and that seemed like the perfect combination in a relaxing read.
And for the most part, it was. Lucky was a character I could sympathize with as she struggled with anxiety while juggling the demands of a successful K-pop career. The K-pop industry is known for its intensive training to shape their stars – aka investments – into a marketable star. Lucky was in the midst of this, about to embark on the next frontier in her career – America.
But then she meets savvy Jack, just trying to survive and figure things out in his life after high school. Having moved to Hong Kong with his family for his dad’s work a year ago, he found himself doing well in celebrity tabloid work in this city that still felt new to him in some ways. What were the odds he’d bump into an actual celebrity without maneuvering himself into such a situation?
The premise was cute. You know things will go down weirdly once Lucky found out her identity as a K-pop star was blown and she’s not just a fun, ordinary girl Jack decided to show around the city. But it sure took a long time to get there. The buildup was almost too long because Jack figured out who she was fairly early on in the book, and we’re just left feeling sorry for poor naive Lucky as Jack continued with his deception.
The romance that also builds as the two went around exploring Jack’s favourite places was also a little hard for me to always believe. I understand the connection for Lucky as this was the first guy she ever really got to interact with outside of her management’s scrutiny. There’s this newfound freedom that’s exhilarating and can easily be transferred to the person who brought such a gift to her. For Jack? Was it just because she was famous? I don’t think so, yet her excitement over absolutely everything didn’t make her personality shine through as much when this overshadowed everything else about her.
What I will say that really saved the story comes down to two things:
- I absolutely adored the locale in this book. There aren’t any YA books I’ve found that feature Hong Kong so prominently. As this is where my family is from, reading the descriptions of the food and tourist areas Jack brought Lucky to was an excruciating yearning to revisit this wondrous city. If Hong Kong is known for anything, it’s the amazing variety of foods. I loved listening to the book describe in detail things I remember from my past visits that it almost felt like I was back there.
- The other thing is the ending. Once you hold out for the climax when the other shoe finally drops, it’s totally worth it. I loved the way the author chose to deal with the aftermath of what you’d totally expect is going to be a messy fall out. It wasn’t prettily wrapped up in a bow, but it also brought a sense of joy and realness to this story.
While there were clearly pros and cons to this book, I still had a good experience with it. I love travel escapism books and this totally delivered, especially in a city that most YA never gets to see up close and personal. The Asian culture shines through in implicit ways because it is literally the backdrop of everything happening. It makes me feel proud to see my city represented like this, and I’m so grateful to Maurene Goo for writing it. I would still tell you to give this novel a chance. You never know if it’s the next read you’ll fall in love with. And maybe want to book a ticket to Hong Kong right away (when it’s safe to).
Somewhere Only We Know was an ode to Hong Kong, my family’s city, that made me want to be there with our protagonists as they embarked on a one-day wild trip around all the wondrous sights and foods. Lucky was a sweet but naive girl who struggled secretly on her own as she put on a different persona for her fans as a wildly popular K-pop star. When she finds the one boy who didn’t seem to know who she was, she obviously uses this newfound freedom to explore. While the premise was fun and cute, the execution could’ve been a little faster paced as we’re always left waiting for the other shoe to drop from near the beginning once Jack, our love interest, couldn’t keep up his deception. The ending was worth the wait though, and this book overall was entertaining and full of book escapism at its best.