Elena Soo has always felt overshadowed. Whether by her more successful older sisters, her more popular twin brother, or her more outgoing best friend, everyone except Elena seems to know exactly who they are and what they want. But she is certain about one thing – she has no interest in going to prom. While the rest of the school is giddy over corsages and dresses, Elena would rather spend her time working to save the local community center, the one place that’s always made her feel like she belonged.
So when international K-pop superstar Robbie Choi shows up at her house to ask her to prom, Elena is more confused than ever. Because the one person who always accepted Elena as she is? Her childhood best friend, Robbie Choi. And the one thing she maybe, possibly, secretly wants more than anything? For the two of them to keep the promise they made each other as kids: to go to prom together. But that was seven years ago, and with this new K-pop persona, pink hair, and stylish clothes, Robbie is nothing like the sweet, goofy boy she remembers. The boy she shared all her secrets with. The boy she used to love.
Besides, prom with a guy who comes with hordes of screaming fans, online haters, and relentless paparazzi is the last thing Elena wants – even if she can’t stop thinking about Robbie’s smile…right?
I was provided a review copy by the publisher in an exchange for an honest review.
Readers who love stories that have K-Pop and are about K-Pop stars: Once Upon a K-Prom is a must-read for you. The story follows Korean-American teen Elena, who would rather spend her money saving the local community centre than going to something as silly as a prom. One day, her childhood sweetheart Robbie appears at her door, following up on his promise that he made to her as children – except she hasn’t seen Robbie since they were ten years old and now he’s one of the hottest K-Pop stars in the world.
Once Upon a K-Prom is thoroughly adorable and sweet, a story that will be the balm to any bad day. Though the central premise of the story is simple, what shines in Once Upon a K-Prom is the story explores the dynamic of how Elena and Robbie come together after being estranged childhood best friends. Despite Robbie’s sweeping gesture of showing up to Elena’s house unannounced to fulfill the promise he made to her at ten years old, she rejects him out of shock. Cute as the premise may be, Elena hasn’t seen nor heard from him in over seven years, and I enjoyed how the story not only takes that lightly but also takes time to explore the unspoken spaces between them.
Elena and Robbie are both fantastic protagonists, who both struggle to define themselves against others who have already defined them for them. Elena’s perspective and personal journey in particular resonated with me, especially in her tendency to run away when things get to difficult. Robbie’s story, meanwhile, explores the pressures that he faces as a K-Pop star and how his contract restricts him from exploring his real passion in music. Miscommunication and keeping secrets from one another are the central conflict of the story, but the push and pull of their relationship and how they grapple with their love and care for another is enjoyably down-to-earth.
K-Pop fans will love Once Upon a K-Prom for its tribute and references to K-Pop and its fandom, though the story can certainly be enjoyed by those who are new to K-Pop or are simply not interested but love a good romantic story. Through Robbie’s perspective (and also Elena’s observations), readers see the strict regimes that K-Pop stars have to follow; their public image, how they present themselves, their group dynamics, who they can date, and their diet are dictated by their companies. Once Upon a K-Prom specifically examines the enormous pressure that Robbie faces as a K-Pop star and that, despite his fame, he doesn’t have the freedom to explore his passions.
Once Upon a K-Prom is a delightful contemporary that strikes a balance between the soft and fluffiness of rekindling a love and friendship thought lost with the emotional challenges that both Robbie and Elena navigate individually and together. Once Upon a K-Prom will be a hit for K-Pop fans, readers who love the sweetness and drama of K-drama, and a satisfying estranged-best-friends-to-lovers romance.
MY CONCLUSION: RECOMMENDED
Is this book for you?
Premise in a sentence: A Korean-American teen is surprised by her estranged best friend when he returns to town as one of the hottest K-Pop stars in the world to honour the promise they made as children to go to prom together.
Perfect for: Readers who love both K-Pop and K-drama, readers who love childhood best friends-to-lovers, readers who like a balance between sweet and ’emotional drama’.
Think twice if: You aren’t a fan of character-centric stories.
Genre: young adult contemporary romance