Actual Rating: 4.75
Thanks to the author and publishers for a free copy in exchange for an honest review!
The second I saw this book title, I just knew I absolutely HAD to have a review copy, and I just knew I’d love it from the cover and from the blurb alone. I was right.
This was a combination of all the things I love in this world: enemies-to-lovers, k-beauty, competition, etc. and it read like a high school kdrama, both in terms of the school competition and family themes.
Essentially, Made in Korea follows two characters. There’s Valerie Kwon. She’s a little icy and aggressive, which is not great for making friends but is perfect for running a student-run business selling K-beauty products. She’s always felt second-best compared to her straight-laced sister Samantha, and there’s only one way to prove otherwise — whisking her halmeoni away to Paris.
And then there’s Wes Jung, the new kid in class whose mom works in the entertainment industry and can get his hand on some K-pop merchandise. His dream is to go to music school, which his Asian parents obviously disapprove of. And so, it’s up to himself to make money for college — which he struggles with until a bunch of K-pop brand beauty products accidentally spill out of his bag and he realizes how much people are willing to pay for them.
And thus, the rivalry begins.
This was the ultimate feel-good novel. For a YA contemporary novel, the plot for this was actually really comprehensive. There was the main plot with Valerie and Wes’ relationship and business competition, but we also saw the development of family dynamics and side relationships with friends. I think some parts of the book were a little predictable, but if anything I think this is exactly how cliches SHOULD be done; despite kind of knowing what was going to happen, it still really jumped out to me both how invested I was in all of the storylines.
The characters are super authentic and lovable and pretty much takes my two favorite type of characters.
Historically in kdramas, strong female leads are hard to come by, which is why Valerie was so refreshing. She knows what she wants (but we still see her dealing with family pressures) and is kind of cutthroat, sometimes to a fault. On the other hand, Wes is determined yet insecure, gentle, and soft-spoken, which we don’t see much in Western media that places so much emphasis on rough-edged masculinity. I genuinely loved both of these characters, flaws and all, and I could see how well they bounced off of each other; even the side characters had personality and one thing I loved was that there was a very subtle yet effective blurring of the line between good or bad when assigning blame.
I also really loved reading the Asian immigrant family dynamic and how this book questioned what it means to be home and what it feels like to belong. Wes and Valerie each have their own backstories and their different relationships with family members, and Made in Korea did an amazing job showing how this happens in a family where different generations have different lived experiences. Val’s story made me tear up because she said so many things I had wanted to say myself but never could.
Small references like taking your shoes off at the door, parents using sliced fruit as a way of communication, and the Korean myth of romantic first snow were just so FUN and heartwarming to read — it felt almost like being part of an inside joke, like I was experiencing what Charlie and Valerie said about finding someone/something that truly understands you.
All in all, I’d unconditionally and whole-heartedly recommend this book to everyone; it has its lighthearted moments, and seamlessly yet pulls off the angst of romantic yearning and the bittersweetness of what it means to love your family and live the Asian-American experience.
Made in Korea comes out May 18, 2021 and can be bought here: