This post contains affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase using that link, a small commission is made from the sale. There are no additional costs to you. Thank you for your support!Idol Gossip by Alexandra Leigh Young
Published by Walker Books US on September 14, 2021
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Representation: biracial (Chinese and Irish) protagonist
Format: ARC, Physical
An inside look at the K-pop phenomenon, in a wry, punchy young-adult debut that probes cultural differences, sisterhood, and the minefield of fame.
Every Friday after school, dressed in their new South Korean prep-school uniforms — sweater vests, knee-highs, pleated skirts, and blazers — seventeen-year old Alice Choy and her little sister, Olivia, head to Myeongdong, brave a dank, basement-level stairwell full of graffiti, and slip into a noreabang. Back in San Francisco, when she still had friends and earthly possessions, Alice took regular singing lessons.
But since their diplomat mom moved them to Seoul, she pours herself into karaoke, vamping it up in their booth to Lady Gaga while loyal Olivia applauds and howls with laughter. Alice lives for Fridays, but when an older woman stops her on their way out one day, handing Alice a business card with a bow, singing turns serious.
Could the chance encounter really be her ticket to elite status at Top10 Entertainment’s Star Academy? With a little sisterly support, backed by one of the world’s top talent agencies, can Alice lead her group on stage before a stadium of 50,000 chanting fans — and just maybe strike K-pop gold? Not if a certain influential blogger and the anti-fans get their way.
Delicious gossip squares off with genuine heart in a debut about standing out and fitting in, dreaming big and staying true — for avid K-pop fans and those just discovering the worldwide cultural phenomenon.
A copy of the book was provided for review purposes - thank you! Receiving a copy does not guarantee a positive review and therefore does not affect the opinion or content of the review.
I’m simple: I see K-pop, I’m immediately interested, even if I might end up disappointed (but I usually hope not). Idol Gossip was no exception.
Alexandra Leigh Young’s debut novel follows Alice Choy, who has aspirations to be a singer and took regular lessons in San Francisco before she and her family overhauls their lives to move to Seoul after her mother finds a job there. Now the only person who listens to her sing regularly is her little sister, Olivia, and the two of them sing karaoke weekly. Alice gets the chance to make her singing dreams a reality when a scout from Top10 Entertainment offers her to audition for a spot at their Star Academy, where she’ll train for the rare chance to debut as an idol.
If you’re looking for a cute romance featuring K-pop, Idol Gossip is by far the wrong book.
The novel goes straight into the rigorous training that Alice is thrown into when she passes her audition with Top10 Entertainment and is the only one (out of plenty of hopefuls) who does so. With her background in singing and years of lessons, she enters their Star Academy as a strong vocal, but she also has a lot of pressure placed on her as she finds out she has only months to prepare for her debut (she’s got a long way to go with dancing) as the newest and final member of Top10 Entertainment’s upcoming girl group: A-List.
Young’s descriptions of the industry as Alice undergoes her training is as realistic as those who are familiar with the industry are aware: long training days in various lessons (dance, vocal, language, etc.), restrictive rules like no fraternizing with boys (god forbid, dating), etc. There’s enough information provided that anyone who doesn’t follow or listen to K-pop regularly (but would still like to read a book set in the music industry) won’t be going into the book and left to swim through the waters on their own.
I think what really made me dislike Shine by Jessica Jung was there’s too much drama (and cringe fest) and not enough of anything else. Idol Gossip strikes the balance of interesting both K-pop and non K-pop fans with a look into the industry as a trainee while also being entertaining and just enough drama that’ll keep readers invested without falling into cringe mode.
While Alice is presented as someone with strong vocals thanks to her years of training, she’s also someone who is self-centered. She’s not the most likable character and is given plenty of chances and opportunities to bond with the other members of A-List (Aria, Yuri, Seol, Hayan), but chooses to shut it down quickly and doesn’t make the effort. But she’s also a teen who has a lot of pressure on her with group’s success or failure (which some of the members have been waiting for years) not too long after she had to give up everything and move to a completely new country. While Alice unfortunately doesn’t have much character development, I personally feel it’s a minor setback compared to the other positives of the book.
Her biggest support system is with her little sister Olivia, who encourages and helps her from the very beginning, encouraging her to take the chance and audition. I loved her support for Alice to chase her dreams (even if it’s something she doesn’t expect and maybe there’s a bonus of Olivia meeting her all-time favorite groups) and their relationship with each other.
While their bond is strong, it also doesn’t come without any pitfalls. We see this explored a little as A-List gets closer to their debut and pre-debut promotions begin, when Alice’s schedules becomes busier than ever. The path to the idol life isn’t easy, and the book doesn’t shy away from the sacrifices Alice has to make if she wants to make it to debut. I also appreciated the cultural clashes Alice experiences throughout as someone who didn’t grow up in Korea or the culture (she’s biracial Chinese and Irish) rather than her going through flawlessly and magically.
Supplementing the story includes blog posts from an influential blogger named V, who is introduced as someone who wants to expose the dark side of the K-pop industry, with regular posts and commentary about news and gossip from groups and idols. The posts also contain comments from netizens ranging from support to hate and everything generally seen in the fandom community, which I thought was a nice complement running parallel with the story, and even more pleasantly surprised that there’s a storyline as well.
Idol Gossip was a fun read that spoke to my K-pop soul, and I enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would. Alexandra Leigh Young’s debut novel is perfect for those looking for a novel including music without the romance and goes behind the scenes of the K-pop industry while also staying true to fandom culture.