I love Maureen Goo. Her books always read like entertaining rom-coms and I love all her appearances on the First Draft podcast. I saw Somewhere Only We Know on NetGalley and requested it right away. So a big thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for giving me an ARC in exchange for my honest review.
10 00 p.m.: Lucky is the biggest K-pop star on the scene, and she’s just performed her hit song “Heartbeat” in Hong Kong to thousands of adoring fans. She’s about to debut on The Tonight Show in America, hopefully a breakout performance for her career. But right now? She’s in her fancy hotel, trying to fall asleep but dying for a hamburger.
11 00 p.m.: Jack is sneaking into a fancy hotel, on assignment for his tabloid job that he keeps secret from his parents. On his way out of the hotel, he runs into a girl wearing slippers, a girl who is single-mindedly determined to find a hamburger. She looks kind of familiar. She’s very cute. He’s maybe curious.
12:00 a.m.: Nothing will ever be the same.
Confession time: I used to be really into K-pop. I still enjoy it, but I don’t listen to it nearly as much as I used to.
I read this book to pay homage to my old love of the music, and the book actually gave me insight into the lives of K-pop stars that I hadn’t considered before. Beyond K-pop though, this book examines what it means to follow your own dreams and what it means when your dreams change. As usual, Maureen Goo set some relatable and important themes against the contemporary rom-com backdrop, and it usually works out really well.
Somewhere Only We Know is told in dual point of view, alternating between Lucky and Jack. I recently went to a book convention and one thing the authors discussed in a panel was the freedom multiple POV gives the writer. You no longer have to rely on describing a character within the constraints of first-person; you can be in their head one moment and then see them from somebody else’s perspective, which ultimately gives more depth to the characters. This is very true in this book. To Lucky, Jack appears as a confident, supportive, adventurous guy, but his own perspective shows the other sides of him that are uncertain and guilty. Jack doesn’t quite know what to think of Lucky who, depending on the moment, seems drunk one second and wise the next. The author executed the changing POVs very well and that helped me feel closer to the characters.
This book basically serves as a guide book to the hidden gems of Hong Kong. The places Jack and Lucky go sound both magical and grounded in reality, and the overall adventure is exciting to read about. They serve as the perfect settings for the characters to get to know each other better and get to know themselves better. Both are uncertain about what they want their futures to look like, but each now location they visit offers them the chance to live in the moment and enjoy who they are in that moment. A lot of people spend so much time worrying about and planning the future that they forget to live in the present, and this book both highlights that and shows that you can break away from that mentality.
As much as I love Maureen Goo and her books, I feel like I can never give them a full five stars. I love rom-coms but sometimes her books seem just a bit too cheesy and cutesy, which can really contrast with the deeper internal conflicts most of her characters have. When this happens the characters don’t seem as strongly written and feel more like an accessory to the cheesy plot. Somewhere Only We Know in particular seems very instalove-y. I can see how spending a day together would make you develop some feelings toward each other but this was a bit too much to believe. With that being said, this is a rom-com and that’s a common thing in rom-coms! Is it realistic? No. Is it really fun and cute? Definitely. The rest of the book is great so it helps make up for the unbelievable pace for the romance.
I love that Maureen Goo’s books always contain funny characters that find themselves in weird and entertaining situations. While some of these moments might be stretched a bit too much for my tastes, like the fact that these characters develop such a tight bond in just one day, the majority of the book is a fun and heartfelt read. I could definitely see her books being turned into a Netflix teen movie, and this is no exception.