Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Review - Somewhere Only We Know

Original Title: Somewhere Only We Know
Author: Maurene Goo
Published: May 7th, 2019

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)


That was one cute, wonderful book! I don’t know where this Maurene Goo reading rush came from, but I don’t regret a second of it. Her books were never in my TBR in the first place, as neither is the contemporary genre, but you know, the unexpected sometimes is the best that can happen to you. And this is, precisely, the point of this lovely story.

One of the best aspects of Somewhere Only We Know is the fact that it is neither set in the US, nor in high school. Refreshing as that is, it is also a wonderful way to walk through Hong Kong as we go with Lucky and Jack in their one-day detour, and it is nothing short of fascinating. After I finished the book, I learned that the author based the general plot on the 1953 classic movie Roman Holiday, with Katherine Hepburn and Gregory Peck, but until then, the first thing I thought was that it felt like a ‘Notting Hill meets Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist’ kind of thing (only k-pop themed). And even when I know that this novel doesn’t have the most ground-breaking plot ever, it is its simplicity, and its message, what makes it beautiful.

Normally, stories set in the course of one day are not my favourite thing, as they often feel rushed, and in general, for me, they tend to be hit or miss. But this one is definitely a hit, as, even if I didn’t go for the insta-love between Jack and Lucky, it is necessary to see beyond the teens falling in love to understand the whole point of the story, because, for such short amount of time, Maurene Goo managed to write fully meaningful dialogues, and a true connection between the main characters, making me love them, even if they were far from being perfect.

Let’s talk about Lucky, our heroine, for a minute. She’s a k-pop star with a million fans and followers, that is finishing her Asian tour, as the book opens with her final concert taking place in Hong Kong. Right after it ends, we get see how her life really is off-stage, how her every move is a part of a carefully laid out schedule, in which she doesn’t have a say. I honestly don’t know much about the k-pop world, as it is not my preferred music genre, but I do know that it is terrible in terms of abuse. After I finished the book, I was able to read about the starvation, the eating and sleeping disorders, the exhaustion, and the plastic surgeries Lucky mentions, among other things that go on in the k-pop industry, and I guess that, even sad as it is, it’s not that strange in the show business. I mean, as fans, we only get to see the finished product, where everything is perfect and seems effortless, but actually, that perfection has a price, and that is the part they don’t tell you. As Lucky tells us her story, we get to know that her fame and success mean she can’t see her family, neither have any real friends nor lasting relationships, nor make any long-term plan around other areas of her life. Her music career is literally everything, and it consumes her identity. And Maurene Goo illustrated it perfectly with the jazz bar scene. After Lucky leaves her room in search for the hamburger she’s not allowed to eat, and is under the drowsy effects of her sleeping pills, she and Jack go to a bar where dead butterflies are a part of the decoration; she snatches one, and says:

Were these killed on purpose? To display here for our viewing pleasure? Like barbarians?!

And I think, it’s not too different from her life. She was that butterfly in the first years of her k-pop career, young, pretty, filled with hope, happy in the music world as she lived her dream, but now, she does things robotically, with her eyes empty of that initial enthusiasm, as everything is controlled by others. In the process that took her to the top of her field, her essence was killed for the pleasure of others. But I liked that, as the story progresses, we get to see how she finds a way to remain loyal to herself, and has this star quality that makes Jack fall for her, eventually realizing she can be so much more than just the product she was made into. Her attitude, her way of seeing things, even if they were buried by the pressures of her way of life, is untouched, and that is the source of her bravery, the one that leads her, by the end, to make her own decisions and take charge of her public image.

On the other hand, we have Jack Lim, the hero of the story. Even though his world and Lucky’s are complete opposites, their lives are not that different. They both feel lost, adrift in a world they can’t control, living day by day, without any long-term plans, and dreading what comes next, even if they don’t know what that is. I personally loved Jack’s passion for photography, and even though, at first, his intentions with Lucky are far from honourable, as their day together progresses, he gets to see things differently. The fact that, by the end, Lucky finds out his real intentions, and all the pictures he took of her during the day, to sell to the tabloid, is absolutely predictable, a rom-com trope you know it will happen eventually. But the important things lay elsewhere, in my opinion. At one point, as they are sitting on the tram, Jack says:

We were both quiet, sitting with our lies.”.

Do you know the famous quote that says “give a man a mask and he will show you his true face”? Well, it was my first thought when I read that. They are lying to each other the whole time, as Lucky pretends to be a girl who came to Hong Kong with her church choir, and although Jack knows it isn’t true, he still plays along to get the photos he needs. And yet, through those masks they put on, they can show themselves as they really are, to be honest as they never are, sharing their passions and thoughts, and building trust. And although I think that creating such a bond between them should take more than one single day, it’s still really well done.

And yet, even though I do not agree with saying that you love each other at the end of one day, as it feels rushed and unrealistic, I do believe it can be interpreted beyond the literal meaning of it. True is that both Lucky and Jack are better when they are together, they bring the best in each other out, and their honest conversations and exchanges are what, at the end of the day, pushes them to be themselves in a world that is constantly trying to change them, and define their paths for them. So, the love declaration, in my opinion, feels more like an “I love who you are”, or even “I love all about this version of you.”, rather than expressing the pure feeling itself.

Moreover, after she finds out about the tabloid and leaves the bar in a rush, not even knowing where she’s going, Jack goes after her, and spots a cat, finding her next to it. And I think it was incredibly meaningful, because later, her real name is revealed to be Catherine, so I think it was a way of showing us that Jack was going after the real person. Not the insanely famous k-pop star Lucky, but a simple girl named Catherine who helped him make life decisions and taught him the importance of doing what gives his life meaning. It’s simple, and beautiful.

I don’t know if I’m right with that interpretation, but it’s just the way I see it.

Overall, I think the story sends a very good message. Being the real, authentic you, is far more valuable than money, fame, or the blinding lights of a stage. Even when making the final decision is not easy, your talent and the things that make you happy should be your priority, in a life controlled by yourself, and not by others. Lucky had given up everything for a chance in the music world, and by the end, exchanging her stardom for a quieter, more authentic way of sharing her own art, she found herself, and the possibility to balance her passion with her family and friends, and even her physical and mental health. Same as Jack, who found the courage to say no to the path he knew would make him miserable, getting to live his own passion for photography, and so, finding his own self in the world.

Oh, and by the way, I loved the little cameo of the Shin food truck by the end of the book! The KoBra family is there! It made me smile, like I just had seen a friend. Lovely detail.

So, in short, this may be not be a world-changing kind of book, but it does encourage the reader to change their own, to be brave enough to let go of the things that are easy, for a chance to let your passion bloom. And I agree. I honestly think Maurene Goo has become an author to look out for, and I will happily read more books by her in the future.


Thank you for reading!
See you soon!


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