The Noh Family by Grace K. Shim
A fast forward Friday pick!
For a identity & family story set in Korea, for little tidbits of fashion, travel, and K-drama fandom. but it also has a character who seems much younger than her age, and makes thoughtless decisions
When her friends gift her a 23-and-Me test as a gag, high school senior Chloe Kang doesn’t think much of trying it out. She doesn’t believe anything will come of it–she’s an only child, her mother is an orphan, and her father died in Seoul before she was even born, and before her mother moved to Oklahoma. It’s been just Chloe and her mom her whole life. But the DNA test reveals something Chloe never expected–she’s got a whole extended family from her father’s side half a world away in Korea. Her father’s family are owners of a famous high-end department store, and are among the richest families in Seoul. When they learn she exists, they are excited to meet her. Her mother has huge reservations, she hasn’t had a great relationship with her husband’s family, which is why she’s kept them secret, but she can’t stop Chloe from traveling to Seoul to spend two weeks getting to know the Noh family.
Chloe is whisked into the lap of luxury, but something feels wrong. Chloe wants to shake it off–she’s busy enjoying the delights of Seoul with new friend Miso Dan, the daughter of one of her mother’s grade school friends. And as an aspiring fashion designer, she’s loving the couture clothes her department store owning family gives her access to. But soon Chloe will discover the reason why her mother never told her about her dad’s family, and why the Nohs wanted her in Seoul in the first place. Could joining the Noh family be worse than having no family at all?
This was solidly ok. It read quickly, partly because the plot was very straightforward and unsurprising. It was pretty predictable, even from startling early on. That’s not necessarily bad, but I don’t expect to be thinking about this book in a month from now. It’s one that will probably remain in the moments where I was reading it and not be carried forward much past that.
One issue I had with this was that I didn’t really like the main character. She read as being very immature to me, and any time it mentioned that she was actually eighteen, I was stunned. In my head, she was a childish 15, or 16 at most. She is meant to be an inexperienced character as she’s grown up sheltered and in a small town, so that’s definitely nailed, but it was still a bit annoying to read in some situations. I felt like there were so many decision she made that were not thought out at all, or blatantly ignoring something that another person told her about previously in regard to her safety. /sigh She’s lucky Korea is a very safe place, even for a young woman on her own.
There’s really no romance in this one, so if you’re hoping for one, DON’T! This is very firmly in the family and identity categories, with romance as a distant aside. If you’re in it for the fashion aspect, then you will be thrown a bone every now and then with descriptions of Chloe’s unique designs, top brands in high-end shopping sprees, and even a fashion show. Still, again, that’s not the crux of the story, but more of a piece of Chloe and her motivations.
There’s a TON of references to Korean Dramas, so if you’re a big fan, you’ll probably have fun recognizing the references they make to Lee Min Ho every few pages as well as descriptions and sometimes straight up names of their favorites. Crash Landing on You and The Heirs are two I distinctly remember being called out. For those not familiar, it’s probably not a huge turnoff, but you might find yourself sympathizing with Seb a little bit more than the others. 😅
Chloe does explore Korea a bit and there are little nuggets of tour-guide info in there. The animal cafes, the image-focused culture, the extreme pressure on education: those along with some other staples are worked in to varying degrees. Even love hotels got a little cameo mention! 🤣 Most of it was familiar (and accurate) from my time living there years ago, so I think you can generally trust what is described as being fairly accurate.
I think there are other stories that do the secret-rich-family story better, and I think there are other stories that do the identity-crisis story better. But this combines the two in a YA friendly way, and it’s fine for what it is.
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