Today I’m featuring MADE IN KOREA by Sarah Suk, a fabulous Own Voices Korean-American YA romance about two entrepreneurs who put everything on the line when they make a bet about whose business can sell the most.
Read on for my thoughts on the book, and then make sure you also check out Sarah’s list of top ten addictions—learn about what inspires her!
Made in Korea by Sarah Suk
Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers on May 18, 2021
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, Young Adult
Source: The Publisher
Cover Artist: Anne Pomel
My content rating: YA (Nothing more than kissing)
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.
Who doesn’t love a little competition fed by an entrepreneurial spirit? Valerie and Wes both feel like they have something to prove. Wes wants to go to music school, even though he knows the only way he can make it happen is by funding it himself—there’s no way his father will support him when Wes’s uncle is already a “starving” musician. Valerie feels like she’s always overlooked and being compared to her perfect older sister. She also wants desperately to help her halmeoni (her grandma) see the world like she’s always dreamed. Valerie figures the best way to solve both of those problems is to make enough money to take her halmeoni to Paris—not only will her halmeoni get the trip of a lifetime, but Valerie will have shown her family she’s capable of great things! When new-guy Wes shows up with a competing business, Valerie is more than a little upset. So the two make an all-or-nothing bet—whoever makes the most profits gets to keep the other person’s profits as well. Except things get a little complicated when they start to fall for each other.
My absolute favorite aspect of this book actually wasn’t the romance but Valerie’s relationship with her grandmother. These two are so sweet together, and it was quite obvious how much Valerie treasured her halmeoni. And whenever the pressures of life were getting to Valerie, Halmeoni was there to lift her up and remind her of what’s truly important. Valerie’s emotional connection to Halmeoni is incredibly strong, and Suk manages to bring the reader right into that relationship so that I was emotionally invested to her too. (I’ll confess that I shed a few tears during some moments between these two.) Another fantastic element of the book was the Korean (and Korean American) cultural references. The delectable food, the beauty products, the K-pop, Korean women divers, church, family relationships, and more. Since all of these things are part of the characters’ everyday lives, the reader is immersed in them too. Plus, both Wes and Valerie explore the ramifications of being raised in a culture that’s different than the country you’re raised in.
In the end, both Wes and Valerie have to figure out what’s truly important to them and determine how far they’ll go to achieve their dreams. And decide which sacrifices aren’t worth making.
***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for review purposes. As always, all opinions are my own and no compensation was given.***
About the Author
Sarah Suk (pronounced like soup with a K) lives in Vancouver, Canada where she writes stories and admires mountains. When she’s not writing, you can find her hanging out by the water, taking film photos, or eating a bowl of bingsu.
Sarah’s Top Ten Addictions
I’m not a coffee drinker so my go-to drink of choice when I’m working or hitting up a café is tea. My all-time favorite comfort drink is boricha, Korean barley tea. Other than that, I enjoy everything from different types of green tea to peppermint to a good old classic orange pekoe. And of course, I’ll never say no to a tea latte (shoutout to the many chai lattes and matcha lattes that have gotten me through those long writing days).
2. SOUFFLE PANCAKES
One of my new favorite hobbies has been making Japanese souffle pancakes. They’re fluffy, light as a cloud, and really addicting to flip in the frying pan. The way they jiggle! I enjoy making them as much as I enjoy eating them, which is to say, a lot.
I love a wide range of music, but there’s a reason why my number one most played genre in my year-end Spotify wrap up is always K-pop. My current favorite artists are Mamamoo, BTS, Twice, and Sunmi. I also enjoy listening to K-pop instrumentals or lofi playlists while I’m working.
4. OVERSIZED SWEATERS
I’ve lost count of how many oversized sweaters I have. And yet, I can never resist adding more to my collection. They are literally the coziest thing ever, and I’m pretty sure I will never get tired of them. That, and oversized jean jackets.
5. TV SHOWS
At any given point in time, there is probably a TV show that I’m obsessed with. I’m the type of person who doesn’t just watch something and think, ‘that was good, I enjoyed that.’ If I really loved it, I watch every behind-the-scenes clip, read every interview, do a deep dive on all the actors and characters involved, and so on. My current obsession is an anime called Jujutsu Kaisen.
Like many other stationery lovers, I too have a pile of notebooks in the corner of my room that I may never use but couldn’t resist buying because look how pretty!! I’m a sucker for stationery stores. Washi tape, stickers, post-it notes in the shape of cute animals… Yep. I’m here for all of it.
Give me a street lined with trees, a mountain view, a spot by the water, and I’ll be happy. I’ve definitely been spoiled growing up in Vancouver, Canada where there are lots of beautiful nature-filled spots so close to, or even within, the city. Because of that, I don’t think I could ever imagine myself living in a place where I don’t have quick access to a body of water.
8. FILM PHOTOGRAPHY
Ever since I took a film photography class in high school, I’ve been hooked on it. I enjoy digital photography and there’s nothing quite as accessible as snapping a photo on your phone, but film is truly where my heart lies. I love shooting a roll and not knowing exactly how it’s going to turn out until you get it developed.
That pile of notebooks I mentioned earlier? I do actually use some of them! I started keeping a journal when I was a kid and haven’t stopped since. I’ve always found journaling helpful for processing my thoughts or helping me remember things that I don’t want to forget. I rarely read back on them, but I find the practice itself very therapeutic.
10. HOT SAUCE
Lastly, I love hot sauce. Not much more to say about that, but yes, I have thought about getting a Sriracha keychain for my purse. One day.
Okay, well, I didn’t know that Sriracha keychains were a thing, but now that I know, I think I need one. And I just got an oversized sweater recently that I LOVE—so comfy! I might have to start my own collection of those. 🙂
Are you a fan of some healthy competition in your romance? I want to know!