Hello, I Love You by Katie M. Stout
Published by St. Martin’s Griffin on June 9, 2015
Genres: [Young Adult] Contemporary
Format: Hardcover, ARC
2 Stars, Completed June 11, 2015
– mild SPOILERS –
Sigh. Why do I feel so conflicted about writing this review?
As you guys know, I’m a huge fan of international music, especially K-pop so Hello, I Love You was right up my alley. The fact that I am a part of the K-pop fandom and do have some background knowledge on Korea (and Korean culture) may have helped and hurt the overall rating for this book.
In Hello, I Love You, Grace Wilde is not the average southern American teenager. Her father is a wealthy, record-producing legend and her brother is a famous country star, who sabotaged his career and life with alcohol and drugs. Often, her family’s reputation precedes her. To escape, she decides to reinvent her life by traveling to Korea, where no one will recognize her. Coincidentally, she meets her Korean roommate, Sophie, who seems to be in the same situation as herself. Sophie’s brother is in a K-pop band, much adored by the young masses of Korea, and seems to be keeping a secret. When Grace meets him, she can’t help but notice his unfriendly demeanor… but also how attractive he is. So a hate-with-some-attraction-at-first-sight romance blossoms.
Okay, so let’s start off with the positive aspects. Like I said, I found the premise and overall idea of Hello, I Love You interesting and very unique. This was the first time I’ve heard of any mention of K-pop in a young adult contemporary novel, and I give props to Katie M. Stout for trying to use this realm of music. Hello, I Love You grant me the chance to read about how it feels to develop a romance with a K-pop idol, which I know is highly improbable but still made me quite giddy. Stout did a nice job adding the cute, fluff scenes. Including the ones I was hoping would appear:
I also found the book to be well written, and introduce a bunch of great supporting characters. Grace’s roommate Sophie is sweet and someone infected with the contagious happy syndrome; I really liked her. Jane, Grace’s younger sister, also played a role in helping Grace get over some obstacles at the end and I really appreciated her bubbly character. And it doesn’t even have to be said that I really enjoyed Sophie’s brother, Jason, and his bandmates’ roles in the book. So, the fangirl within me refuses to give this a one star mainly because of Jason and the fact it mentions K-pop, which also brings me to the topic why I cannot give this above 2 stars.
Experiencing this virtual dream high of dating a K-pop idol (quoting Joey on this) through Grace is all good. However, K-pop rarely shows up. I was hoping that real existing bands and music shows would appear in the book to help emphasize how big K-pop is in Korea. Sometimes crazy fangirls popped up but I found those moments to poorly reflect the attitude of Koreans toward K-pop than realistically portray it. I’m sure every fandom has a set of delusional and rude fans; the Korean ones are often referred to as sasaeng fans. However, there are nice, respectful fans that can support their idols by giving the idols space, too. I also wish the sub-genres of K-pop like singer/songwriter, rap, and pure pop boy/girl bands other than Jason’s group, Eden, which is completely fictional if you haven’t guessed, were highlighted in this.
And I’m sure you guys have read the other reviews for Hello, I Love You and have heard of the backlash it’s received so far about the cultural portrayal. Even though this is the protagonist’s first time in Korea, she appeared more as a spoiled brat (kind of like the stereotypical American tourist) than an openminded foreigner with a case of culture shock. Grace is very unlikeable, judgmental, and condescending. And she complains a lot.
“I’m guessing that if you guys are famous like Sophie said, it’s mostly based on pretty faces instead of actual quality of music.”
This quote happens to be one of the many statements I was pretty peeved over, not really as a K-pop fan but more as a human being. I think it’s perfectly fine that Grace isn’t fond of K-pop. K-pop is not a popular preference of music for most foreigners since most of the music is in Korean with some unintelligible English phrases here and there. I also get that the concept of bands having 10+ members and males wearing eyeliner can be disconcerting too. But I found her comment toward Jason rude since a lot of Korean idols like all other idols work hard in what they do. I always think there are plenty of euphemisms to illustrate one’s opinions. There are also a bunch of subtle racist remarks made by Grace, which was judgmental and not cool. (I honestly can’t see why Jason would like her…)
I also feel like this book had a lot of material to work off of with the setting in Korea, but the country wasn’t highlighted well or to its full potential. There were actually moments where I didn’t feel like I was in Korea but rather just a general location on the planet. I wish there was more emphasis on the uniqueness of the country aside from the food, though food is pretty awesome.
So overall this may be a light and fun read if you’re not into K-pop and don’t know much about Korean culture. Being sort of well-read on Korean pop culture and someone with many Korean friends, Grace’s irritating behavior and cultural intolerance made me feel ashamed that Grace represented the American in the book (her mother did not help either). So Grace’s character is the main reason why I cannot give this book a high rating. However, the idea of reading about a romance with a K-pop idol is thrilling, and the fluff scenes are pretty cute.
*All of the photos aside from the book cover are from the Korean drama, Heartstrings, which I often was reminded of while reading Hello, I Love You. And I got the screen captures from dramabeans. (I couldn’t source my photos using the title Attributes like I usually do and I didn’t feel up for editing the html code.)
*Quote(s) are from the uncorrected, arc copy.
I received this from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book. Thank you St. Martin’s Griffin for sending me this review copy! (And special thanks to Michelle, a St. Martin’s Griffin’s publicist.)
And my Current favorite K-pop jams:
1. Love Me Right – Exo: Okay, I’m going to have to admit the American football theme for this is a bit weird and nonsensical. But I love the harmony accents and vocal layering. And I am a huge Exo fan.
2. Kiss My Lips – BoA: This solo singer is actually really considered a senior in the K-pop industry despite her young looks. “Kiss My Lips” is the main promoting song for her 15th year anniversary album.
3. I Need U – BTS: I do like the song, but I find the overall message of the MV to be deep.