An inside look at the K-pop phenomenon, in a wry, punchy young-adult debut that probes cultural differences, sisterhood, and the minefield of fame. Every Friday after school, dressed in their new South Korean prep-school uniforms — sweater vests, knee-highs, pleated skirts, and blazers — seventeen-year old Alice Choy and her little sister, Olivia, head to Myeongdong, brave a dank, basement-level stairwell full of graffiti, and slip into a noreabang. Back in San Francisco, when she still had friends and earthly possessions, Alice took regular singing lessons. But since their diplomat mom moved them to Seoul, she pours herself into karaoke, vamping it up in their booth to Lady Gaga while loyal Olivia applauds and howls with laughter. Alice lives for Fridays, but when an older woman stops her on their way out one day, handing Alice a business card with a bow, singing turns serious. Could the chance encounter really be her ticket to elite status at Top10 Entertainment’s Star Academy? With a little sisterly support, backed by one of the world’s top talent agencies, can Alice lead her group on stage before a stadium of 50,000 chanting fans — and just maybe strike K-pop gold? Not if a certain influential blogger and the anti-fans get their way. Delicious gossip squares off with genuine heart in a debut about standing out and fitting in, dreaming big and staying true — for avid K-pop fans and those just discovering the worldwide cultural phenomenon.
My favorite part of this entire novel is the relationship between Alice and her sister, Olivia. The two are close, so when Alice goes off to school it’s really tough on both of them. Separately, they have to navigate being in a new country, making new friends, and doing it without the other for the first time. What makes it worse is they’re not even living under the same roof any more, and they rarely have time to speak or see one another. Young does a great job at showing how siblings can be each other’s biggest fans, but also how delicate the relationship can be.
This story is an enjoyable read about an artist chasing her dream against the odds, but even though there’s a lot of conflict and tension built into the plot, it’s a slow read. It didn’t have enough juicy moments to be a guilty pleasure as I expected, like NASHVILLE for instance, nor did it have enough grit to display the dark side of the business like A STAR IS BORN. It existed somewhere in the middle.
That being said, IDOL GOSSIP is a great read for K-pop fans who want a peek behind the curtain. Its strongest takeaway is a caution to all readers about how we use social media. Are we going to uplift people or tear someone down? Young poses this question to us inadvertently, which is both relevant to the times and crucial for us to answer.