Warning, the following review does contain some spoilers.
When I first found out that a K-pop and Korean drama fan had written a book based in South Korea, my inner fangirl went wild. Finally, someone has written the love story most overseas fans could relate to, in terms of dreams of course. Hello, I Love You is marketed as a “Fresh new voice within the young adult market. Featuring an opposites attract love story and a Korean K-pop superstar to boot, this charming new title explores what it means to experience a first love and discover who you really are in the process.” So far it sounds like a perfect read for K-pop and Korean culture fans.
Author Katie M. Stout is from Atlanta, Georgia and works for an international charity where she is shipped all over the world on exciting escapades. She is a self proclaimed chai tea addict and states her love for Girls’ Generation, Teen Top and a lot of other big favourites within the K-pop scene, something I expected to see evidenced within the book.
We are introduced to the main character, Grace Wilde, the daughter of one of the biggest country producers in America, secret sister to Nathan Cross, the large scale A-list celeb who committed suicide through drink, drugs and rock & roll. She has a mother who she detests and a younger sister who she loves to bits. But we find her leaving all of her family and fame behind in Nashville and starting her own journey on her way to South Korea.
Straight away within the first few chapters I find myself clenching my teeth with subtle anger as I read stereotypical generalist remarks about the way Koreans address white people within their country. Grace hasn’t even left the airport and already she is declaring that every person who is not white is staring at her luscious long blonde locks, milky white skin and bright blue eyes like she is some kind of goddess. Stout’s cultural approach is not that of a person who has done her research – or if she has, it was minimal and from very old text book writing.
The character development doesn’t take too long, as even side characters get some form of development. It makes for a a nice change to actually know a little more about some of the people who make pivotal changes. We are introduced to Sophie, Grace’s roommate for her stay in a Korean school (which she blindly chose as it was the first school to pop into her search bar) and who becomes the mediator of the whole story by balancing the stereotypical Asian schoolgirl with the high pitched voice who is super talkative and super happy to have “A real American” as a future best friend. Grace creates a cultural divide straight away by feeling “judgement” of other foreigners within the school as she feels they are already in their own cliques. Thus she is introduced to Jason Bae, Sophie’s brother.
We are quickly thrown into the fact that Jason has two friends, Yoon Jae and Tae Ha, and that the three of them make up the boy band “The Eden”, who of course, are one of the biggest groups in K-pop! Through ups and downs throughout, some kind of relationship forms between Sophie and Tae Ha (their relationship had me happier than the main characters), and a friendship/relationship is formed between Grace and Jason. Though it’s difficult to understand how on earth Jason has feelings for Grace, as she is offish, rude and downright degrading towards the boy. Jason does retaliate, but has good reason to do so. Grace continuously uses the whole “Alice in Wonderland” syndrome with her princess complex and continues to entice Jason on, then throws him away through the goading of her own inner demons.
As the ending comes close with graduation at hand for the characters, the truth comes out as to why Grace behaves the way she does. The stress of pressure tears away at Jason and suddenly we are left in a position where the story can go two ways. Does our main girl go home to a life she dislikes with every fibre of her body, or does she stay and make her own dreams come true? The last few chapters really felt like a blur. With the last two in particular, more could have been done to flesh out one of the most important moments the reader had been waiting for, yet it ended like a soggy paper towel on a plate – totally unappealing and disappointing.
As a book that was supposedly written by a K-pop and Korean drama fan, with the promise of these influences, I was left completely deflated. Stout states in her book, on her social media and on her website that she has a deep interest in the culture and music scene within Korea. However, there is no attempt to show that understanding of what it takes to be a K-pop idol, the understanding of cultural differences, or any attempt to paint South Korea, its people, its culture, or its music scene in any good light. Instead we have angst within a character that should have learnt the differences in what was right or wrong within the first month of her staying at a Korean school dormitory.
If you have no care about differences in culture, the music scene, or promoting a good image, then what you have is a good teenage love story. It hits the right amount of notes for teenage angst with enough pushing and pulling of fictional emotions which today’s generation of kids could possibly level with. If you want a short enough book to travel with to pass the time, then this is small enough in pages and in size. For a hardback book it is really nicely presented. I can fully see what Stout was going for, but without some key points of research, a little more understanding, or even without talking to a vast amount of fans of the K-pop world, what was created was something a little less than par.
“Hello, I Love You” is available from all good bookstores worldwide. If you have read the book, please feel free to post a comment below with what you thought about it.