[Review] Jessica’s debut novel ‘Shine’ is entertaining if nothing else

Not sure what exactly possessed me to read and live-tweet former SNSD member Jessica‘s debut novel Shine on a Monday night, but I ended up blazing through it in one late-night/early-morning sitting and somehow didn’t regret it.

Getting the obvious out of the way here, Shine isn’t something I bought because of my expectations of it to attain literary achievement nor am I even a YA reader or the target audience. Rather, I thought if Jessica was gonna quasi-spill about her time in SNSD and SM Entertainment, then hell I’d better be on top of it considering how big of an event her exit was in my K-pop life.

The fact that I was able to make it through all 300+ pages and comfortably digest everything is an indication of how light of a read it was, but it’s also an indication of how fun it was (intentional or not).

The novel starts off spicy, showcasing the kind of backstage conflict that everybody likes to imagine idols going through behind the pristine frontstage image they present to all of us. It’s a surprisingly effective hook before taking us through the events that led to that point.

For the most part, the story goes about how one would expect, checking off the boxes of typical tropes. General familiarity with K-pop helps a lot, and it read a lot better because I already understood the setting, and thus I’m not sure it would work for those who aren’t K-pop fans (not that they’d probably read this anyway).

Without spoiling too much, there’s a bunch of standard twists throughout the book that I was familiar with thanks to 90s/00s teen movies, though one did catch me off guard a bit. Surprisingly, there was also some depth given to the antagonist that would benefit from being explored further.

The writing is almost amusingly verbose as well, with certain side stories and descriptions that could’ve easily been cut and I don’t think I’d miss anything if it was less than 250 pages instead. That said, it seemed like lot of the background and the explanations of her life growing up were sorta of more non-fiction than fiction, which would appeal to fans and maybe that was the point.

One thing I would note is that if you’re reading this because you love the K-pop façade and want to come away thinking this is so fun and cool or whatever, then this isn’t the book for you. It paints a very dramatic, harsh, and rather bleak image of celebrity and the industry, which is partially why I enjoyed it despite writing that wasn’t targeted to me.

And also for stuff like how shameless it is to paint Rachel as gorgeous and talented, especially if that’s supposed to be Jessica. Like … it’s hilariously straight-forward about these points at multiple junctures.

Now for what everybody, including me, has been waiting for: controversy. Surprisingly it was relatively devoid of it for the majority of the book. Sure, there were typical K-pop system things that people have surely already heard about in terms of snark, backstabbing, company favortism and what not. However, there wasn’t a lot of direct comparisons, as the main antagonist seemed more like a compilation of people rather than matching specifically to individuals and the same seems to apply to others in the books.

That said, things certainly escalate in the latter half of the book, and the cause of most of the outbursts are not individuals but rather the companies and the industry. In particular there’s one chapter where Jessica appears to speak through a fictional girl group member Kang Jina from Electric Flower, where she just unloads on the company DB Entertainment, and it’s hard not to draw parallels between that and Jessica’s experience. I suppose it’s a spoiler alert, but you know what happened to Jessica so … not really.

At one point, that Kang Jina character also references knowing information that would set the K-pop world on fire. So yeah.

One welcome surprise was that the book also later extensively talks about double standards applied to male and female idols and how the male idols seem oblivious to this.

While it may not be exactly the spicy stuff that people were waiting for, there was enough of it where even I was pretty shocked by the sharp turn it took and was reading those sections carefully at that point. However, given where the book concludes, the stuff people are really waiting on might have to wait for a book or two in the future. Smart, really.

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When it comes to Jessica’s SHINE, the main thing I would say is just know what you’re paying for. If you want a mostly simple but entertaining read with some nuggets of truth-telling/ranting from the most high-profile idol to probably talk about it, then I think you’ll probably enjoy it. Other than some filler, it’s quite fun in one sense or another, whether because it’s so ridiculous and cliche and improbable that it’s unintentionally funny or because (especially towards the end) I seriously did want to find out where it would go and what would be said next. It’s one of those things that’s not necessarily good, but I didn’t regret buying it either.

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Worth noting that I didn’t get a review copy of this, so I bought the Kindle version. That said, when I was live-tweeting this a bunch of people said it made them want to buy it and have been demanding that I review it so they could talk about it, so this is the review and here’s a link to buy the book yourself.

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