SOMEWHERE ONLY WE KNOW by MAURENE GOO (2019)
A REVIEW by ALEXA DUNCAN
It’s no secret that I’m a K-pop (Korean pop) fan. I’ve been interested in it since 2009 or so when a friend of mine linked me to a YouTube video for a song called “Gee” by Girls’ Generation. I was immediately hooked. The catchy melodies, the fun choreography, the elevated level of polish you just don’t see much in American pop these days–it’s all present in K-pop. Years later, I’m still firmly on the K-pop train, and when Maurene Goo announced that she was writing Somewhere Only We Know–a book about a K-pop star in Hong Kong–I knew I had to read it.
Somewhere Only We Know follows eighteen-year-old K-pop star, Lucky, on her journey to be the first Korean artist to really break through in America. Or, it does, until she decides one night to escape from her hotel on the hunt for, what else, a hamburger. Due to her strict lifestyle as an idol, Lucky is repressed to the point of starving herself and taking sleeping pills just to get some rest. Sometimes, all Lucky wants is freedom. Escaping from her hotel is how she gets it.
SOWK is narrated in duel perspectives. We have Lucky’s point of view, and then we have Jack’s. Jack, who is also Korean-American like Lucky, lives in Hong Kong and works as a photographer for a sleazy tabloid. He just so happens to be in Lucky’s hotel when she escapes, and our story kicks off from there. SOWK is billed as K-pop Roman Holiday, and it is exactly that. If you’ve ever seen the Audrey Hepburn film, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Boy meets girl, they spend a romantic day together in a foreign city, drama ensues.
The interesting twist with SOWK, however, is the sheer Korean-ness of it. Maurene Goo is Korean-American, so everything in this novel is #ownvoices, and it shows. There’s an authenticity to her work that elevates any story she writes. While SOWK is mostly cute and fun, there are some serious discussions about what it means to be Korean–and also Korean-American–that give the novel a bit of a brain as well as a heart. I loved reading about Lucky and Jack’s adventures, and Hong Kong is so vividly realized in this book that it made me want to travel there ASAP.
The true star of this novel is Lucky. She’s such a fun character to read from and her perspectives on the K-pop industry never failed to capture my attention. Lucky is talented, of course, but she’s also really funny, her use of old-fashioned phrases she learned from romances novels adding an element of charm to her character. Speaking of charm, Jack oozes it. He’s fun to read about, too, but I found myself connecting to Lucky more.
The key to enjoying SOWK is that you really gave to suspend your disbelief. Can these two crazy kids really fall in love of the course of a day? If your answer is no, you’re thinking too hard. SOWK is best enjoyed if you’re along for the ride and nothing else. Every time I caught myself thinking too hard, I scolded myself and moved onward. By the end, I really enjoyed my time with the novel, and if you’re looking for a fun summer read, you can pick up our copy of Somewhere Only We Know at the Oreana Library today!