Her Story: Ladies In Literature is a special, month-long series on Pop! Goes The Reader in which we celebrate the literary female role models whose stories have inspired and empowered us since time immemorial. From Harriet M. Welsch to Anne Shirley, Becky Bloomwood to Hermione Granger, Her Story: Ladies In Literature is a series created for women, by women as twenty authors answer the question: “Who’s your heroine?” You can find a complete list of the participants and their scheduled guest post dates Here!
About Kat Cho
Kat Cho used to hide books under the bathroom sink and then sneak in there to read after bedtime. Her parents pretended not to know. This helped when she decided to write a dinosaur time-travel novel at the tender age of nine. Sadly, that book was not published. Kat is the co-host of the Write or Die Podcast, a podcast that interviews authors about the struggles of getting published and maintaining an author career. She currently lives and works in NYC and spends her free time trying to figure out what kind of puppy to adopt. Kat is the author of Wicked Fox and Vicious Spirits (Putnam/Penguin).
Content Warning: Discussion of parental death and grief.
Lara Jean Song Covey doesn’t need to be a hero to be inspirational. She’s just normal. Which might not seem like a big deal to any reader who is used to seeing themselves on the page, but was a huge deal for me when I read To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before.
I grew up without seeing myself on the page. That sentence seems like it can be said by hundreds of thousands of BIPOC millennials. My only source of Asian rep was Mulan and Claudia from Babysitters’ Club. So, to have Korean protagonists is amazing. But moreso, it feels important to have one like Lara Jean Song Covey who is to her core Korean, but also a normal teenage girl struggling through normal teenage angst. I think, as a teen, I spent too long playing into the Asian stereotypes because it’s what was expected of me. Yes, I do have parents who have high academic expectations of me, isn’t that so funny. Yes, I am a mathlete and science brain. LOL typical Asian Kat. Yes, I do love anime and K-pop. Such a Korean girl. But even as I played into these tropes and laughed along with “friends” about it. Inside, I felt like I wasn’t a full person. I was just a caricature that measured her worth by how many cheap Asian joke laughs she could get. That’s why, seeing a character who didn’t struggle with that was so important to me. I was working so hard on shedding that part of me that held me back from being fully proud of my Korean identity. And to see Lara Jean and Kitty Song Covey so casually offer Peter a Yakult was a revelation.
I also enjoyed how Lara Jean embraced her love of romance novels and idealistic views of romance. Because that’s…well…me. I discovered romance novels when I was in middle school and I never looked back. People used to tease me that the reason I have such high expectations in my relationships is because I’m so used to the high drama, intense emotion of the Nora Roberts novels I used to read (honestly, NR is the romance writer to me because her female characters are strong and bold and self-aware). Lara Jean struggles a lot with who she wants to be, but I think the thing that I appreciated about Lara Jean is that her development didn’t come at the cost of her idealistic love of love and romance and baking. All things that girls do sometimes get either teased about or pigeonholed into. And all things that I love and enjoy. Lara Jean’s story is a love story, but she doesn’t become who she is because she’s loved. Of course the relationship with both Peter and Josh are the core of her struggle, what comes of it is Lara Jean realizing how she’s held herself back and how she can let herself be more free. In that way, I think that she’s an ideal role model for young girls and even though I read the books as an adult, it was really inspirational for me as well.
The final reason I love the Song girls is a little difficult to talk about. To be honest, I think that TATBILB also came at a really tumultuous time in my life. My connection to my Koreanness was very deeply rooted in my parents. They were the ones who guided how I felt about my Korean heritage, they were the ones who explained why we did certain things in our household. They’re the ones who made sure I knew to do things like call my halmeoni (grandmother) whenever I was even in the vicinity of New Jersey because she’d want to know and because it was the respectful thing to do. So when I lost my parents, I felt adrift in many ways. I felt like I didn’t have the guidance I depended so deeply on. And I felt like maybe my connection to my heritage had gone with them. Enter, TATBILB trilogy. I read it in less than three days. I loved all the wonderful things discussed above. But there was one aspect of the books that hit me so deeply in my core that I couldn’t even voice it at first. Because Lara Jean had also lost her mother. And because my own loss still felt fresh, I couldn’t focus on it directly. But, always, it was in the back of my mind. Always, it was something I noticed every time Lara Jean explained why the Song girls called themselves that (because Song was their mother’s Korean maiden name). Or that they still take their shoes off because they’re still an Asian household. And as I read the books, they made me realize that even though my connection to my Koreanness (my parents) might not be physically with me, my Koreanness was innately a part of me. That didn’t disappear or fade away.
I was lucky enough to watch a panel with Jenny Han after I’d read the books. I broke down sobbing in front of her. I have a very awkward photo with her where my face is all splotchy. It was hard for me to tell her that, yes, the Korean rep was so important to me in TATBILB. That yes, Lara Jean being true to herself meant so much. But more than that, the fact that, despite losing their mother, Lara Jean and her sisters were able to hold onto their Koreanness in an organic way that didn’t need explanation or reason felt so soothing to my still grieving heart. For that, I’m grateful to the Song girls. And I hope that many more Korean readers can find them and love them like I do.
And if you’re looking for more amazing Korean rep then definitely check out I Believe In A Thing Called Love, Rebel Seoul, Prophecy, Stand Up, Yumi Chung!, and I’ll Be The One!
Title Vicious Spirits
Author Kat Cho
Intended Target Audience Young Adult
Publication Date August 18th 2020 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Find It On Goodreads ● Amazon ● Chapters ● The Book Depository ● Barnes & Noble ● IndieBound
New romance and dangers abound in this companion to the crowd-pleasing Wicked Fox.
After the events of Wicked Fox, Somin is ready to help her friends pick up the pieces of their broken lives and heal. But Jihoon is still grieving the loss of his grandmother, and Miyoung is distant as she grieves over her mother’s death and learns to live without her fox bead. The only one who seems ready to move forward is their not-so-favorite dokkaebi, Junu.
Somin and Junu didn’t exactly hit it off when they first met. Somin thought he was an arrogant self-serving, conman. Junu was, at first, amused by her hostility toward him until he found himself inexplicably drawn to her. Somin couldn’t deny the heat of their attraction. But as the two try to figure out what could be between them, they discover their troubles aren’t over after all. The loss of Miyoung’s fox bead has caused a tear between the world of the living and the world of the dead, and ghosts are suddenly flooding the streets of Seoul. The only way to repair the breach is to find the missing fox bead or for Miyoung to pay with her life. With few options remaining, Junu has an idea but it might require the ultimate sacrifice. In usual fashion, Somin may have a thing or two to say about that.
In Vicious Spirits, Kat Cho delivers another beguiling and addictive read full of otherworldly dangers and romance.