The Comeback
Grade : B-

I think it’s time we stopped considering the notion of published books resembling fanfiction a bad thing. Because - I’m not going to lie to y’all - The Comeback is very trope-y, and very fanfiction-y. That is, however, not a bad thing, as I had a great time with a heroine who is both imperfect and winning. Unfortunately I couldn’t give the book a higher score due to the way the hero (and the narrative) treat the heroine.

Ariadne – Ari - Hui is a top-draw lawyer, which should make her quest to make partner at Yesterly and Havings a walk in the park, right? Not exactly. Ari has to be on top form at all times. All business, and no time for romance. Unfortunately, the handsome stranger sitting awkwardly in her living room when she comes home one day seems destined to distract her from that goal.

Ari’s roommate Hana steps in to clarify things. She introduces the man as Choi Jihoon, her cousin, in from South Korea after a nasty break-up. Ari soon finds herself charmed by Jihoon, and the two of them forge a relationship. A relationship threatened by the revelation that Jihoon is a widely known as Min, a member of the K-Pop group StarLune. Ari loathes celebrities after working in entertainment law, and she’s not entirely sure she can trust Jihoon is who he says he is after his lies. Will Ari embrace the spotlight? Or will she be unable to combine her legal career with angry fangirls, marauding paparazzi, and disapproving record labels?

You know the answer to this one, but I had a problem with the way the book embraces it. I liked Ari a lot, but the plot expects us to be okay with blaming her for much of what happens in the book.

First of all, it’s hard for me to believe that Ari wouldn’t know who Jihoon is, even in a passing way, if StarLune is basically this universe’s version of BTS. (Even my seventy-four year old father knows who BTS is.) Her not knowing is made even more unbelievable because she’s worked in entertainment law! And because she knows enough about K-Pop to say she doesn’t like it!! But I’m willing to lean into this soapy coincidence and run with it. The book promptly throws Ari into an impossible situation, where if she doesn’t agree to be with Jihoon, she’s hurting him and is a coward for not taking the leap, but if she does agree to be with him, her anonymity, sanity, safety and many other s-words will be at risk. It’s no easy feat to go from being a normal person to someone in a public-facing relationship, and the narrative treats Ari’s reluctance to throw herself to the proverbial wolves as cowardice. Look at what people like Daneel Ackles deal with from fanbases and press corps alike, and you’ll get the gist of why dating a celebrity with even a cult fanbase isn’t something to take lightly. Sometimes true love isn’t enough when people steal your garbage and call you a beard online 24/7.

While Jihoon’s lying at least makes sense and he’s sorry he did it, people treating Ari like she’s crazy for wanting to proceed with caution into this situation is nonsensical. He’s a nice guy and she likes him, and vice-versa, and his being a celebrity doesn’t change that. But she knows this man has stalkers; that’s why Hana never told Ari who Jihoon was at first. She’s volunteering for being a scapegoat (which the record company eventually makes her).

And yet Ari’s repeated reasons for not entering into a relationship with Jihoon – that he’s a big-time celebrity and can’t possibly understand what a ‘peasant’ like her – a combination of cringing self-loathing and class consciousness that doesn’t wash – could ever offer him, or that he could never understand what she needs on Planet Earth – do not make sense. The book posits that Ari has no center of self because she’s so concentrated on pleasing her father that she has had no time to have fun and figure out who she is, but she does have a personality, even though it’s an immature one.

Then there’s Ari’s career conflict. We’re told her desire to be a lawyer was mainly a result of her trying to please her dad. And yet if she’s so competent she’s on track to make partner, you wouldn’t have any idea as to how skilled she is, because the book eschews any but the lightest ‘office culture’ scenes. We get no sense of what Ari is like in the courtroom; her life seems to involve negotiating contracts. We agree it’s an outrage when she’s passed over for a promotion in favor of a white woman whose mistakes she constantly covers for (the racism involved here is spot-on) but we want to see what she’s like in the executive world. And since the book is overstuffed at 400 pages, that conflict should’ve been in there.

The romance does work, because Jihoon refuses to give up, even though he blames Ari for a little more than her fair share and blames her for things that are beyond her control. I liked the peek into the kind of lives K-Pop bands live, which can be incredibly structured and limiting. It’s a culture unto itself and Chu does a good job making life within a band like Jihoon’s feel as overwhelming as it must be in real life. And I truly loved Ari, who has to figure out how adulthood actually works. The Comeback is worth reading, but too flawed to reach a higher grade.

Reviewed by Lisa Fernandes
Grade : B-

Sensuality: Subtle

Review Date : May 17, 2023

Publication Date: 05/2023

Review Tags: AoC PoC

Recent Comments …

  1. Having that problem too – just now, hugely enjoyed Spite House by Olivia Dade, m/f CR done wonderfully. Strong rec.

  2. I really didn’t think you were criticising anyone, so we’re good! There was a discussion on AAR some time ago…

  3. But, queer romance are as real to me as non-queer, so I still don’t understand your thinking. I still want…

Lisa Fernandes

Lisa Fernandes is a writer, reviewer and recapper who lives somewhere on the East Coast. Formerly employed by Firefox.org and Next Projection, she also currently contributes to Women Write About Comics. Read her blog at http://thatbouviergirl.blogspot.com/, follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/thatbouviergirl or contribute to her Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/MissyvsEvilDead or her Ko-Fi at ko-fi.com/missmelbouvier
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