Frankly in Love meets Shark Tank in this feel-good romantic comedy about two entrepreneurial Korean American teens who butt heads—and maybe fall in love—while running competing Korean beauty businesses at their high school. There’s nothing Valerie Kwon loves more than making a good sale. Together with her cousin Charlie, they run V&C K-BEAUTY, their school’s most successful student-run enterprise. With each sale, Valerie gets closer to taking her beloved and adventurous halmeoni to her dream city, Paris. Enter the new kid in class, Wes Jung, who is determined to pursue music after graduation despite his parents’ major disapproval. When his classmates clamor to buy the K-pop branded beauty products his mom gave him to “make new friends,” he sees an opportunity—one that may be the key to help him pay for the music school tuition he knows his parents won’t cover… What he doesn’t realize, though, is that he is now V&C K-BEAUTY’s biggest competitor. Stakes are high as Valerie and Wes try to outsell each other, make the most money, and take the throne for the best business in school—all while trying to resist the undeniable spark that’s crackling between them. From hiring spies to all-or-nothing bets, the competition is much more than either of them bargained for. But one thing is clear: only one Korean business can come out on top.
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In her senior year, Valerie has big goals for the sales. She wants to take her halmeoni on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Paris. Her halmeoni has always dreamed of traveling, and in this gift, Valerie will not only be doing something for her halmeoni, but also proving to her parents that she is good at business and worth their admiration.
Everything seems to be going well until the new (and handsome) guy in school, Wes, begins selling his own beauty product line. Wes dreams of being a musician, a career his parents absolutely do not want him to follow. His mother gave him some beauty products from a K-pop line that is really popular to share with kids at school. When he inadvertently sells them, he learns the market is there and decides to keep selling them to raise money for his application and admission to a musical college.
As their business rivalry escalates, it becomes more personal - and soon, feelings are growing in addition to their competition.
What I loved: This was a really enjoyable and cute read. The competition kept the pace going quickly, and I appreciated the dual perspectives. Both Valerie and Wes were really compelling characters, and the motives behind their businesses and desires to have their parents accept and appreciate them will resonate with readers. There are many cute and sweet moments mixed with some humor, and I loved the way they got to know each other plus pushed each other's buttons throughout.
There are some great themes about family and its complexity. I adored Valerie's halmeoni, and the way her relationships with her parents and sister evolve. Valerie has always felt like a disappointment, and she wants to prove to her parents and herself that she has what it takes in business. Her relationship with them has colored other relationships in her life, and she begins to understand these complications as she grows during the story. Similarly, Wes dreams of being a professional musician, but his uncle has pursued this career and struggled because of it. As he tries to find a way to tell his parents and prove he can do it on his own, he must learn more about himself and his decisions along the way.
Communication is another major theme of the book, and the lessons about the need to talk about concerns and feelings are really well done. Beyond the two main characters, there are many others who have needed to talk about things. Even if things don't end in the way they wished, there was still value in speaking their truths.
Final verdict: Charming and sweet with compelling characters and a delightful premise, MADE IN KOREA is a gratifying YA contemporary read about following your passions, competition, and family. Highly recommend for fans of TWEET CUTE, A PHO LOVE STORY, and DATING MAKES PERFECT.