Title: Hell, I Love You
Author: Katie M. Stout
Rating: ★★★ 1/2
Synopsis: Grace Wilde is running—from the multi-million dollar mansion her record producer father bought, the famous older brother who’s topped the country music charts five years in a row, and the mother who blames her for her brother’s breakdown. Grace escapes to the farthest place from home she can think of, a boarding school in Korea, hoping for a fresh start.
She wants nothing to do with music, but when her roommate Sophie’s twin brother Jason turns out to be the newest Korean pop music superstar, Grace is thrust back into the world of fame. She can’t stand Jason, whose celebrity status is only outmatched by his oversized ego, but they form a tenuous alliance for the sake of her friendship with Sophie. As the months go by and Grace adjusts to her new life in Korea, even she can’t deny the sparks flying between her and the KPOP idol.
Soon, Grace realizes that her feelings for Jason threaten her promise to herself that she’ll leave behind the music industry that destroyed her family. But can Grace ignore her attraction to Jason and her undeniable pull of the music she was born to write? Sweet, fun, and romantic, this young adult novel explores what it means to experience first love and discover who you really are in the process.
Huge thank you to St. Martin’s Griffin & Netgalley for this ARC!
Before I get into my review I want to state that I have lived in Asia. While I have never been to Korea (I was there for 2 hours in the airport during my layover last fall, but that’s it) I did live in Japan for seven years. I went to school there, worked there, lived there, got married there. I chose to go to Japan because I wanted to study there. I do understand that my experiences are mine alone and that I can’t say that everyone will experience things the same as mine. So any judgements I make on this book and on Grace’s experiences come from my observations of not only my experiences but others around me. People close to me and not. As a white girl in Asia. As a foreigner far from “home”. And yes, while I might have way more knowledge about Japan than Korea, I did spend a good portion of my undergrad years watching Kdramas, I dated a Korean boy, and I had a lot of Korean friends. I think I have a pretty basic knowledge and a pretty good handle on some of the more prominent cultural points there.
Anyway, going into this book I did not have high hopes for it. Often books written about Asia with the ‘white girl goes to Asia’ plot don’t work for me. Most of the time they’re filled with stereotypes and ideas taken from pop culture. With the promised Kpop angle in this book and knowledge that the author loves Kdramas I figured it would be same-ol-same-ol. I did tweet her and ask if she’d ever lived in Asia (she said yes, China), so I was hoping that she’d have a good handle on the ‘white girl in Asia’ part at least.
And overall it wasn’t bad. I actually only really felt the need to nitpick a few places. I think thought that, unfortunately, that was because a lot of the time Korea is shockingly absent from this book that takes place in Korea. And if you go into this book expecting Kpop IDOLS (like Big Bang, Shinee or Super Junior) this is not going to deliver. While the band in this book is described as playing Kpop, they don’t do the whole singing/dancing/wearing ridiculous costumes bit. Instead they play instruments and sing poppy songs. I had a hard time placing this band in my mind because I’ve never really thought of anything less than an IDOL group as “Kpop”. (Much like I don’t think of a lot of non Johnny’s groups in Japan as Jpop). But alas it is “pop” music and can be called as such. But don’t get your hopes up TOO high if you’re expecting lots of singing and dancing.
So let me talk about the characters. Grace is our white girl going to Asia. She’s from the south and apparently has no knowledge of Korea. She’s running from her family and what you later learn is a dark secret where she thinks she did something horrible, and randomly choose Korea. This just seemed odd to me from the start, and it really bothered me that Grace had no actual vested interest in the country. Why didn’t she go to Europe instead? She’d still be hours away, but she’d be living in a place where she can communicate and not have to worry about the food (as much). No, she just chooses Korea because it’s far. And this took me out of the story a bit because it didn’t feel like GRACE chose Korea, but the author. So I would have liked to have seen a LITTLE more interest.
Also Grace has seemingly no trouble fitting in and has very little culture shock. And this bothered me A LOT. Not only did it take me months to get used to Japan (a place that I had a vested interest in, had studied about for YEARS and had two years of language study under my belt) but I had a good six months of severe culture shock. And yes, I know that my experience was much different, but a lot of my friends had trouble as well. I do blame some of this on the fact that Grace was pretty much in a bubble. She didn’t really have to do a lot of stuff on her own, she had two VERY westernized friends taking care of her, and she only went out into actual Korea a few times. But it did bother me that she was able to do things like ride the subway for the first time by herself (and you say what? But STEREOTYPES. Why CAN’T she figure these things out on her own? 1. Because she didn’t even have jet lag! How did she not have jet lag?! And I don’t think she had a lot of experience with subways in Tennessee) or just wander off with no knowledge of where she was. Also, did we HAVE to go there with the ‘white girl can’t use chopsticks well’ trope? That one gets to me all the time. I spent seven god damn years explaining to Japanese people that us ‘MERICANs can use our thumbs to hold chopsticks and actually get food into our mouths.
Before reading this I heard a lot of noise about Grace being very judgmental. I did think that she went a little overboard at times with being scared of the food and saying that Kdramas aren’t interesting and what-not. I kinda feel like with her, she chose to go to Korea, so she really shouldn’t be as wary of the food as she was. I worked hard in Japan for people to accept that yes, us Westerners can eat the same kinds of food as Asians. So when people go to other countries (not just Asia) and they aren’t willing to be positive about the food and at least give it a fair try, it bothers me. I did enjoy the part with the squat toilet though. It took me a good two years to work up the courage to use one in Japan!
I also didn’t like how Grace was always expecting that people should speak English to her. YOU ARE IN KOREA. LEARN SOME DAMN KOREAN. She was just so AGAINST learning Korean and just UGH. Yes it’s hard, but study it! SPEAK IT! I know that the book was in English and that having a ton of translations would be annoying, but there are ways to have them speak Korean without losing stuff in translation or even having to write the Korean out! So her poor language abilities (and I don’t mean her insistence that she’s not good at languages) aside, she just didn’t try hard enough.
I really liked both Jason and Sophie. I did not like that they were always using their Western names. It just seemed odd that nobody else had them and they did. I understand that in the USA it’s common for Korean and Chinese people to choose English names, but for everyone to keep using them in Korea was, idk.
I liked that Jason was hot and cold and broody. It matched his “rock star” persona. I did not like that Grace had to describe every. Single. Detail. of his appearance every time she saw him. I get it. He’s hot. He’s Korean. He’s fashionable. I did like Sophie, but there were times when her blanket statements about Koreans or American’s were annoying and stereotypical.
And Jane. I loved her as a sister. Hated her as a Japanophile/Koreophile. All of her talk about ‘bring me a cute Korean!’ made my blood boil. Like you can just go to the store and “pick up a cute Korean!”. I have my own issues with this though, so I’ll just leave it there.
As a story and a contemporary novel it hit all the right notes though! The writing was good, I got caught up in what was happening and I really enjoyed the interactions between the characters! I liked the topics that were dealt with (family, depression, friendship, love) and the way that Grace and Jason were friends for the majority of the book. I liked the side characters, hated the mother (but I think we were supposed to, so that was well done!), and did enjoy the few times we got a glimpse of Korea.
Overall I would have liked this better if Grace had been less dramatic, had a more vested interest in Korea, and her life in Korea had been a bit more realistic.