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Book Review: Made in Korea by Sarah Suk

Publisher’s description

Frankly in Love meets Shark Tank in this feel-good romantic comedy about two entrepreneurial Korean American teens who butt heads—and maybe fall in love—while running competing Korean beauty businesses at their high school.

There’s nothing Valerie Kwon loves more than making a good sale. Together with her cousin Charlie, they run V&C K-BEAUTY, their school’s most successful student-run enterprise. With each sale, Valerie gets closer to taking her beloved and adventurous halmeoni to her dream city, Paris.

Enter the new kid in class, Wes Jung, who is determined to pursue music after graduation despite his parents’ major disapproval. When his classmates clamor to buy the K-pop branded beauty products his mom gave him to “make new friends,” he sees an opportunity—one that may be the key to help him pay for the music school tuition he knows his parents won’t cover…

What he doesn’t realize, though, is that he is now V&C K-BEAUTY’s biggest competitor.

Stakes are high as Valerie and Wes try to outsell each other, make the most money, and take the throne for the best business in school—all while trying to resist the undeniable spark that’s crackling between them. From hiring spies to all-or-nothing bets, the competition is much more than either of them bargained for.

But one thing is clear: only one Korean business can come out on top.

Amanda’s thoughts

What a fun read! I pretty much never get sick of the premise “they’re rivals/enemies, but SURPRISE, now they like-like each other!” The things that make this particular version of that story stand out are the focus on K-pop and K-beauty, the mostly Korean American cast, and Suk’s truly excellent talent for writing quick, snappy dialogue. I burned through this great book and then immediately went out and bought some Hi-Chews. (You’ll see.)

The fact that the high school in this book allows students to run their own small businesses made for a great platform to create a rivalry. Valerie is very assertive and completely focused on making her business succeed. Not only is she great at marketing and selling, but she’s driven by the wish to save enough money to take her beloved grandma on a trip to Paris. Wes, the new kid, is pretty quiet and really just focused on his music and trying to figure out to covertly apply to music school. His business really starts up by accident, but he sees it as a way to get the money he needs for application fees etc. He kind of gets swept up in the rivalry as accidentally as he starts his business—things get out of control, ideas grow beyond what he meant—but the one thing that’s not accidental is falling for Valerie.

Only guess what? Drama ensues. There’s spying and subterfuge and a big bet, and gossip, and DRAMA. There’s also kissing and mistakes and hurt feelings. Things fall apart in interesting ways and get fixed in satisfying and realistic ways. While this is a great look at identity, culture, family, expectations, and entrepreneurship, it’s also a wholly satisfying and really cute romance with fully realized characters who have so much going on in their lives beyond just (maybe reluctantly) realizing they like each other. Charming and well-written.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781534474376
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Publication date: 05/18/2021
Age Range: 12 – 18 Years

Book Review: Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Today Tonight Tomorrow

Publisher’s description

The Hating Game meets Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by way of Morgan Matson in this unforgettable romantic comedy about two rival overachievers whose relationship completely transforms over the course of twenty-four hours.

Today, she hates him.

It’s the last day of senior year. Rowan Roth and Neil McNair have been bitter rivals for all of high school, clashing on test scores, student council elections, and even gym class pull-up contests. While Rowan, who secretly wants to write romance novels, is anxious about the future, she’d love to beat her infuriating nemesis one last time.

Tonight, she puts up with him.

When Neil is named valedictorian, Rowan has only one chance at victory: Howl, a senior class game that takes them all over Seattle, a farewell tour of the city she loves. But after learning a group of seniors is out to get them, she and Neil reluctantly decide to team up until they’re the last players left—and then they’ll destroy each other.

As Rowan spends more time with Neil, she realizes he’s much more than the awkward linguistics nerd she’s sparred with for the past four years. And, perhaps, this boy she claims to despise might actually be the boy of her dreams.

Tomorrow…maybe she’s already fallen for him.

Amanda’s thoughts

Sometimes it’s the books I like most that make me want to write the laziest book review. Do I have more thoughts beyond, “I absolutely adored this book, you should go get it, and I don’t want to tell you much more because it’s just such a joy to discover the story as you go in fresh”? Sure. And I’ll offer a few. But really, this book should be able to be sold with just a “trust me, you’ll love this.” And you’ll get about five pages in and see I was right.

Rowan and Neil’s combative relationship is full of taunting and competition, which means two things: one, they’re very good at bantering with each other, and two, they’re never far from one another’s minds. Flip their relationship to a romance, not a rivalry, and you might think they’re a little bit obsessed with each other. This, of course, is the thing that Rowan can’t see and is appalled at when her friends tease her about her obsession with Neil. But when she really starts to examine things, as their adventurous night running all over Seattle for a game unfolds, she is shocked to find she really does like Neil, especially as she’s finally getting to know the real him.

Going in, I figured I’d like this. I have really enjoyed Solomon’s previous two books and I am a huge fan of romances, especially enemies-to-lovers romances. But this book exceeded my expectations. Real highlights include how frankly Rowan discusses and approaches sex, the truly excellent banter, the deft handling of a large cast of secondary characters, and the completely satisfying and adorable romance. This book was a total delight.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781534440241
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication date: 07/28/2020
Age Range: 12 – 18 Years

Book Review: Verona Comics by Jennifer Dugan

Publisher’s description

From the author of Hot Dog Girl comes a fresh and funny queer YA contemporary novel about two teens who fall in love in an indie comic book shop.

Jubilee has it all together. She’s an elite cellist, and when she’s not working in her stepmom’s indie comic shop, she’s prepping for the biggest audition of her life.

Ridley is barely holding it together. His parents own the biggest comic-store chain in the country, and Ridley can’t stop disappointing them—that is, when they’re even paying attention.

They meet one fateful night at a comic convention prom, and the two can’t help falling for each other. Too bad their parents are at each other’s throats every chance they get, making a relationship between them nearly impossible . . . unless they manage to keep it a secret.

Then again, the feud between their families may be the least of their problems. As Ridley’s anxiety spirals, Jubilee tries to help but finds her focus torn between her fast-approaching audition and their intensifying relationship. What if love can’t conquer all? What if each of them needs more than the other can give?

Amanda’s thoughts

When I’m writing this review it’s March 20, 2020 and I’ve just been diagnosed as “COVID-19 concern,” which I guess is what they diagnose those of us who are sick with all the symptoms in this world of no available tests. I’m really into feeling sorry for myself today. But you know what helped? This book. I read it all today. And loved it. And thank goodness I’ve stumbled into a pile of books keeping my attention because wow have I been in a reading slump lately.

This book is my favorite kind of book: small plot, lots of talking. It also has delightfully convoluted communication mainly due to the fact that we first see our characters meet at a con and know each other as Peak and Bats. Peak (Jubilee) assumes Bats (Ridley) goes back home to Seattle, but really, he stays in Connecticut to live with his terrible father. Also, while they initially know nothing about one another, Ridley figures out who Peak is (Jubilee, daughter of a famous indie comic artist and his father’s main rival) while she knows nothing about him. Even for many, many chapters while they are hanging out in IRL. And Riley may be spying on her family’s store to get intel to help his dad (who, did I mention? is terrible). And when the reveal comes that not only is Ridley Jubilee’s con-crush Bats but is the son of her mom’s rival, things grow even MORE complicated, because how can Jubilee possibly still like him? But she does.

Whew. Get all that? You will when you read it.

There’s also a lot going on here regarding both mental health and sexuality. Ridley is bi. Jubilee calls herself “flexible” and isn’t comfortable with any one label yet, but knows she’s into certain people regardless of their gender. Ridley worries what Jubilee will think about him being bi, and Jubilee worries that repeatedly liking boys somehow makes her less queer. Then there’s Ridley’s mental health. At one point he tells Jubilee that he doesn’t have a diagnosis—he has a laundry list. His main issue is anxiety with panic attacks. Given the amount of lies and secrets he juggles for much of the book, it’s no surprise that his anxiety is always in high gear. Things start to become dangerous when he begins to feel like he’d just like to get lost in Jubilee and forget everything else. A common statement at our house is that people don’t fix people. So wanting to get lost in his girlfriend isn’t exactly a doctor-approved way to treat his worsening anxiety. Some bad choices and instability lead to everything coming to a head.

While this is certainly a romance, it’s also so much more. It really asks the question of how do you survive the dark times and doesn’t offer any easy answers. It’s also a great look at two people getting maybe too wrapped up in each other and not helping them be their best selves (does that sound like a mom lecture? I may or may not have given it recently). This is much heavier than it may appear based on the cover and the summary. That said, those looking for a contemporary that successfully mixes romance with some rather serious issues (and some concerning choices regarding lies, truth, and mental health) will enjoy this. A character-driven book with wide appeal.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780525516286
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 04/21/2020
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years