Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
Sarah Suk’s Made in Korea is a cute enemies to kissing YA contemporary that focuses on the tension between personal dreams & parental expectations.
Senior Valerie Kwon is very business-oriented, focused on how she can keep her student-run business V&C K-BEAUTY the most successful at her school. She’s saving her profits from the business she runs with her cousin so she can take her Halmeoni on a trip to Paris. & maybe also so she prove that she’s talented & accomplished in her own right to the mother who constantly compares her to her older sister.
But she runs into some competition from Wes Jung, who’s new to her school & decides that selling some K-pop products his mom has gotten from her job (some of which she offered to him personally; none of which she has approved to be sold at his school) is a way that he can finance his music education hopes. He’s a saxophonist at heart but try telling that to his parents, especially his dad who wouldn’t approve of a music career in the slightest.
So Valerie & Wes are competitors, each of them eventually trying on some behaviors that aren’t quite aboveboard, but for reasons that would be relatable to many.
Of course they’re also attracted to each other & respect each other, which makes their competition a little more confusing for them.
Three cheers for a heroine who isn’t immediately “likeable” to everyone; who is ambitious & driven (occasionally cutthroat ;) ) & who makes some mistakes & not-so-great decisions because not only is the business her priority ambition-wise; it’s also related to some family pressures.
I did want to see a bit more evidence of growth from Valerie—I wanted that part of the story to be considered a bit more & maybe a little earlier in the story—but in general I’m excited to see more rep of teen girls like this & appreciate how it’s balanced by her softness toward her grandmother & eventually Wes.
& Wes is a sweetie, awkward & kind, as Valerie eventually realizes, & the way that he comes to see Valerie’s honesty & confidence as things to emulate are lovely.
Suk compellingly offers common ground between them—the judgment they face from their parents, the feeling of not always feeling completely “at home” because Valerie is Korean American & Wes is a Third-culture kid.
While there’s a lot to savor about this one, the engagement between leads feels somewhat lacking to me. I didn’t totally buy their romance because I just didn’t feel that they had enough meaningful interaction spread throughout the story.
All things considered, Made in Korea was a fun way to spend my time & introduced me to a talented writer, but it also falls a little flat in some respects for me.
3.5 ⭐️. Release date: 5/18. Please read Own Voices reviews.
Give me that HEA, please.
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