Having now read two books by Maurene Goo, I think I can say three things about her: she has an entertaining sense of humor; she has a great insight into teenage concerns and dialogue; and she is totally into food.
This book is a young adult retelling of “Roman Holiday” only with a better ending.
[“Roman Holiday” is a 1953 American romantic comedy starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. In that movie, Audrey Hepburn is a royal princess who escapes from her handlers in order to see Rome on her own, and Gregory Peck is the reporter chasing her for a scoop. His plans are upended however when he inconveniently falls in love with her.]
In this book, “Lucky” is the moniker of a big idol in K-pop, the popular South Korean music genre. K-pop is known [in real life as well as in the book] not only for its distinctive performance style, but for the close management of its artists. For one thing, these manufactured teenage idols live together in a regulated environment and spend many hours a day training, especially in dance, an integral part of K-pop. The performers have strict diets, and must adhere to rigid codes stipulating acceptable speech, appearance and behavior so as to maintain a “perfect” unblemished image with zero scandals. Consequences of a violation are severe.
Lucky is 17, and although she was born and bred in L.A., she now lives in Seoul with a team of handlers. As the story opens, she is performing in Hong Kong, staying at a fancy hotel surrounded by managers and bodyguards who make sure she doesn’t leave and doesn’t eat anything except salads. In a few days, she is scheduled to make her debut on American television, a huge opportunity. But she feels like the thrill of performing is gone; everything is so tightly regulated, and she doesn’t feel joy anymore.
Most of all, Lucky would kill for an “In-N-Out Burger” or even just any hamburger. In spite of having taken her mandated sleeping medication, she manages to sneak out of the hotel and into the city of Hong Kong in search of food.
In alternate chapters, we hear from Jack Lim, 17, also originally from L.A., but currently in Hong Kong. He is taking a “gap year” before college, and working as an intern at his father’s bank. He hates the job and wants to be a photojournalist. He is moonlighting on the side as a paparazzi, taking surreptitious photos of high-profile people for exposés in a sleazy tabloid. He will do anything to be able to take pictures for a profession; photography is his passion.
Out in the street, Jack bumps into Lucky, who is groggy and lost. At first he doesn’t know who she is, but he is not the type of guy who wouldn’t try to help someone in her situation. When she passes out, he takes her back to his apartment so she can sleep off what he assumes has been too much to drink. While she is conked out, he checks his twitter feed and inadvertently discovers who she is. This could be his chance for a career-making scoop.
If you’ve seen “Roman Holiday,” you know what happens next. The two spend the next day together, seeing the sites and having a wonderful time, with Jack taking pictures on the sly.
But of course they fall for each other, and worse yet, Lucky finds out about the photos, and that Jack has been using her. Pictures of her having a “normal” life – especially with a boy! – could destroy her career. She is hurt and angry, and Jack is devastated. After an upsetting confrontation, they both go their own ways. Nevertheless, while they only spent one day together, each inspired the other to change and to alter the course of dreams that had seemed unattainable.
Evaluation: This is a wonderful travel guide to Hong Kong and its food, as well as an entertaining rom-com. It’s a fun read with a satisfying ending but also carries a message about finding out what is important in your life.
N.B. Don’t read it on a diet.
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR), 2019