Review: Hart & Seoul by Kristen Burnham (arc)



Title: Hart & Seoul 
Author: Kristen Burnham 
Series: Stand-alone 
Genre: Contemporary, YA 
Publication date: June 4, 2019 
Rating: ★½ 

Merilee Hart has been doing her best to keep things together since her mother left, her art a welcome escape from her depressing new reality. But things seem to go even more awry the moment her next door neighbor’s enigmatic and mysterious nephew arrives from South Korea. Lee is moody, cocky, and utterly infuriating. But when Merri’s closest friends betray her and her father crushes her dream of going to art school, Merri finds herself drawn to Lee, who seems to live within even greater shadows than her own. And just when she thought things couldn’t get crazier, Merri’s world is upended when she discovers Lee’s big and bizarre secret…he is none other than a runaway member of the K-pop mega-group Thunder. It’s not long before Thunder’s fans, the Storm Chasers, begin to close in on Lee, ready to do whatever it takes to return their favorite idol to his rightful place in the band. Faced with the prospect of even more heartbreak and caught up in an international whirlwind that has a life of its own, Merri realizes that she must find a way to mend herself, gain control of her life, and pursue her dreams—her heart and soul depend on it.

When it comes to K-pop and its related idol culture, my knowledge of its works is not non-existent but it’s definitely limited. I started reading this book unbiased, although not completely objective either as I am certainly interested to learn more about what it’s all about. If anything I was ready to love it. Hart & Seoul seemed like a simple, compelling way to fall in love with a mostly foreign world of entertainment and hopefully its (in this case fictional) lead pop stars. 

It didn’t work out quite as planned. The premise is exciting, though. An undercover K-pop idol, reconnecting with the real world and somewhere along the way falling in love with a regular American girl; and in return the girl entering a fantastical world previously unknown. It’s a trope I can always rally behind, it reminds me of my teenage years and foolish but oh so compelling movies. I didn’t expect or even want this to be deep and thoughtful. I just wanted it to be fun. Unfortunately I was often too busy being annoyed to enjoy the experience.

Everything was painfully obvious. And I know it’s a lot to ask this kind of book not to be, but there are limits to my ability to deal with the obvious. I could see everything coming miles away, the foreshadowing was so unsubtle and yet somehow the main character always found herself suprised. That doesn’t work. And annoyed the hell out of me. 

Main character Merilee was likable enough and so was K-pop star in disguise Hyung-Kim Lee. If that’s even his name, because he was usually called Lee, sometimes Eeunim, or just Ee. At first I thought I didn’t get it because I lacked some knowledge on Korean name-giving but it’s more - it genuinely just doesn’t make sense. Nor did the nickname “Lee” chose for Merilee. He called her Christmas, because you know, Merilee, Merry, Merry Christmas, Christmas. So yeah.

Writing about different cultures and especially doing them justice is tricky. It takes tons of research and hours of careful consideration. You really don’t want a book to paint a cliche picture. Sadly I felt this was exactly what Hart & Seoul did. The way the main character’s aunt (who had been living in America for years) “spoke” and the grammar mistakes she constantly made, were painful to read. Maybe on tv this works, but seeing the errors written on paper made it come across as really condescending. Or at least that’s how I felt. The Korean references made me roll my eyes multiple times. I’m sure there has to be more to Korea than Gagnam Style. Lose the cliches and superficial characteristics, that would be my biggest advice.

I also didn’t feel like the author payed enough attention to how sparkly Lee was? I really like my boys sparkly, you know. Or wait. She did. Once or twice. Per sentence. IT WAS SO ANNOYING. She frequently called him sparkle boy, I kid you not. So sexy. I got major Twilight vibes and that might not be the best advertising for your book about K-pop idols.

Many things also didn’t make sense. Situations brought about emotions that didn’t seem to fit or were exaggerated and I honestly can’t imagine a K-pop idol being so unworldly he would call blonde hair ‘yellow’. I think it was supposed to be endearing. It wasn’t. Neither was the chemistry between Lee and Christmas - uh, Merilee. There wasn’t any. And if a romantic book isn’t really romantic…

Ah well. It could have been good but it failed to deliver. Wouldn’t recommend. Especially not if you’re into K-pop and have some actual insight in what it’s supposed to be. I imagine the book would only annoy you even more.



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