[Book Review] “Hello, I Love You” by Katie M. Stout – Please Don’t Read This Book
Do you remember those halcyon days when the world was young and it was possible to tell the difference between hastily typed fanfiction and a novel published by a major press?
Hello, I Love You by Katie M. Stout seems coldly calculated to offend and insult. It is racist, poorly written, and inexplicably plotted. Its understanding of Korea seems to be derived from watching Boys Over Flowers and like, two Kpop videos.
Let us begin with the basics. Main character Grace Wilde is a naïve, wide-eyed Southern Belle. This is bizarre, considering she is the daughter of a world-famous record producer and the sister of a recently deceased country superstar. Grieving after the vaguely-described, alcohol-fueled demise of her brother, Grace absconds to a boarding school in Korea for no other reason than Korea happens to be far away from Tennessee. She’s also a songwriting prodigy, allegedly.
In Korea, Grace meets the famous, generically sullen Jason Bae. He is supposedly hot, but this is doubtful considering his penchant for “slouchy hats” and jeans so skinny Grace becomes concerned for his health. Curiously, despite what’s written on the dust jacket, Jason isn’t an idol. He is the singer of a teenage pop/rock band that’s achieved crossover success, like Maroon 5.
Jason is a rock star living on the edge, as evidenced by the fact he gets drunk twice in one year (gasp!). Apparently no one but alcoholics touch the devil’s drink in Nashville, a city where once in broad daylight I saw a group of men casually, even indifferently, snort rails of cocaine. Also, what kind of millionaire rock star wants to attend high school?
Once the two meet they embark on a tepid, chemistry free romance for the ages. Their white-hot passion culminates in a promise to wear v-neck tee shirts…forever.
Jason’s sexy collarbones and other sexy sexinesses make up about 40% of the book. Most of the rest is comprised of dull, excruciatingly detailed accounts of meals, study sessions, bus rides, and other bits of life’s irritating ephemera.
But there’s still plenty of room for cringeworthy “observations” about Korea and Koreans. Jason is regularly referred to as “the Hot Korean.” The phrase “I bow my head like I read is the custom” crops up multiple times. Hangul is referred to as “Korean symbols.” Grace walks around continually disappointed that she has to eat “rice and noodles” all the time. She is genuinely surprised to discover that Koreans have the ability to make out and don’t just passionlessly press their lips together à la KDramas. The following is a direct quote from the book: “WE’RE GOING TO BE IN ASIA TOGETHER!!! there will be chopsticks. and dumplings. and CUTE ASIAN BOYS!” [sic]
Most hilariously, at one point two Korean girls glower at Grace for wearing a skirt that is too long. Because, you know, all Korean women wear mini-skirts all the time and will tolerate no deviation.
Grace is what we in the hating-on-books game call a “magical white person.” Everywhere she goes people are enamored by her whiteness. Grace even refers to “American” as “the magic word” noting that her status as an American makes her a “celebrity around here.” When Sophie, Grace’s roommate/Jason’s sister, first spots Grace the following ensues:
“[Sophie] lets out a little squeal, throwing her arms around me…She bounces up and down with me still in her arms until I push her back with forced laughter. ‘I’m so glad you’re here!’ She claps her hands in excitement. And you’re American!’”
And I kid you not, a gaggle of adorable children gather round her to marvel at the beauty of her blonde hair.
This should be enough to send any reasonable person running far, far away from this book. Yet, I would be remiss not to address the music aspect. Early on Grace goes into a tizzy over Jason’s great taste in music – Bob Dylan and The Beatles. It’s not like I was expecting the two to share a mutual love of Asylum Party or Suburban Lawns, but come on. Saying you like The Beatles is like saying you like drinking water or breathing air.
And finally, the book is named after a song by The Doors. Grace and Jason make a solemn vow to “introduce Korea to The Doors.” Not only are Koreans aware of a band that broke up 42 years ago, but the country has its own rich history of psychedelic rock. In a move that’s appropriate for all the wrong reasons, the song “Hello, I Love You” is used as an expression of the sincere feelings between Grace and Jason. Stout believes it’s a romantic song, when it really is Jim Morrison lasciviously describing and propositioning an anonymous woman. This book also posits love where it is more like an uncomfortable, objectifying crush.
A review copy of this book was sent to us from the publisher St Martin’s Griffin. The hardback and e-book is available now and the paperback edition will be released on 13th July.