Our Friend is Here! is a guest feature at The Quiet Pond, where authors, creatives, and fellow readers, are invited to ‘visit’ the Pond! In Our Friend is Here! guest posts, our visitors (as their very own unique character!) have a friendly conversation about anything related to books or being a reader — and become friends with Xiaolong and friends.
Our Friend is Here: Asian and Pasifika Heritage Month Edition is a month-long event at The Quiet Pond during the month of May, where Asian and Pasifika authors are invited to celebrate being Asian and Pasifika work and literature! Find the introduction post for Asian and Pasifika Heritage Month here.
I have probably said this before, but am not ashamed to say it again (and again): diverse young adult contemporary romances are such spectacular shining lights in young adult literature right now. And if you are looking for such a book that shines brilliantly and brightly, that delights and warms your soul, then look no further than Made in Korea by Sarah Suk, a spectacular rivals-to-romance story between two Korean-American teens who go head-to-head in their Korean product businesses.
I utterly adored Made in Korea – and would not be surprised if it makes my ‘top books of the year’ list. Today for Asian Pasifika Heritage Month, I have the joy and pleasure of having the author of Made in Korea, Sarah Suk! Sarah visits us at the Pond today as a grey bunny eating Hi-Chew (a Korean sweet that is very much relevant to Made in Korea)!
It’s also a special day: Made in Korea releases today! So, if you haven’t heard of this delightful book, then I am excited to tell you a little bit more about it.
Made in Korea by Sarah Suk
There’s nothing Valerie Kwon loves more than making a good sale. Together with her cousin Charlie, they run V&C K-BEAUTY, their school’s most successful student-run enterprise. With each sale, Valerie gets closer to taking her beloved and adventurous halmeoni to her dream city, Paris.
Enter the new kid in class, Wes Jung, who is determined to pursue music after graduation despite his parents’ major disapproval. When his classmates clamor to buy the K-pop branded beauty products his mom gave him to “make new friends,” he sees an opportunity—one that may be the key to help him pay for the music school tuition he knows his parents won’t cover…
What he doesn’t realize, though, is that he is now V&C K-BEAUTY’s biggest competitor.
Stakes are high as Valerie and Wes try to outsell each other, make the most money, and take the throne for the best business in school—all while trying to resist the undeniable spark that’s crackling between them. From hiring spies to all-or-nothing bets, the competition is much more than either of them bargained for.
But one thing is clear: only one Korean business can come out on top.
Author Interview: Sarah Suk
CW: Hi Sarah! A huge and warm welcome to you, and thank you so much for visiting us at The Quiet Pond; it’s such an honour to have you with us today. For our friends out there who haven’t met you before, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Sarah: Thanks so much for having me! The honour is all mine. As far as introductions go, I’m Sarah and I live in Vancouver, Canada, where I write books for kids and teens and spend a copious amount of time reading movie analyses after watching them. I also love film photography, hanging out by bodies of water, and flipping souffle pancakes. It’s really therapeutic.
CW: Congratulations on your debut, Made in Korea! I had so much fun reading your wonderful book and I am so excited for everyone to read this and love this as much as I did. You mentioned that you wanted to write a story about teens who sell K-beauty products at school – what was the inspiration behind this?
Sarah: I’m so glad you enjoyed it! Yes, that was actually the very thought that began the entirety of Made in Korea. To be exact, it was ‘I want to write a story about teens who sell Korean beauty products at school, but I don’t know what else they do yet.’ To be honest, I’m not entirely sure where that thought came from. I think I was fascinated by the idea of a high school underground market, you know, teens running secret businesses, maybe hiding products in their tuba and selling them on the sly during band class. I imagined them shuttling around hot in-demand products that are difficult to find in your everyday store… like K-beauty products straight from Korea.
The story continued to evolve from there, and of course, the student run businesses became more of a school sanctioned project rather than a secret marketplace. Though I do still hope to incorporate that tuba into another story one day!
CW: As well as the wonderful rivals-to-lovers romance in Made in Korea, the book also delves into some really personal themes, like following our dreams and living up to our family’s expectations. What was the ‘place’ you were writing from when you explored these themes through Valerie and Wes’s stories?
Sarah: The place I was writing from was the place I always seem to find myself which is one of deep introspection. One of my favourite verbs is ‘to ponder’ because that’s what I feel like I’m constantly doing. I think a lot about identity and relationships and family dynamics, and I knew I wanted to incorporate some of those themes into the book, particularly since it is a young adult novel. There’s so much discovery that happens during your teens, both in yourself and in the world around you, and I really wanted to explore that through Valerie and Wes’ stories.
CW: I think the theme that hit me the hardest – and therefore the theme that I loved most! – was how our goals can become our identity, particularly for Valerie. For her, her goals are so important to her, but they also become all-consuming, shaping her life and the way she navigates the world and the relationships around her. Was there a personal experience, or any other real life sources, that you drew inspiration from when writing this particular theme of Made in Korea?
Sarah: Oh for sure. I definitely resonate with that as well – the struggle to separate myself from my goals, to know that I am more than the sum of the things I achieve. I think especially when it comes to writing, I always have to remind myself that I am not my books and that there’s more to me – and to life! – than being an author. It’s wonderful to work hard and to be passionate about what you’re doing, but like Valerie, I often end up tunnel-visioning and getting all-consumed by this one thing. I can’t stress enough how life saving it’s been to have people around me who know me well and are able to offer fresh perspective when I need it. In that way, I think this part of Valerie’s character and story arc was deeply inspired by my own life.
CW: One of my favourite relationships in Made in Korea was the one between Valerie and her halmeoni – it was just so sweet and unconditionally loving. Is there a person in your life that inspired the character for Halmeoni and her relationship with Valerie?
Sarah: I truly loved writing every single scene between Valerie and Halmeoni. Even the simplest moments between them like when they were sharing a sweet potato at the kitchen table was such a joy. Personally, I didn’t grow up close to my grandparents. My paternal grandparents passed away quite early in my life (my grandfather before I was even born), and both my maternal grandparents lived in South Korea so I never got to spend much time with them growing up. But then in university, I spent a semester studying abroad in Seoul and I went to visit them every weekend. I’ve always been drawn to grandchild/grandparent relationships because I grew up with friends who were very close to their grandparents, so I saw this as a unique window of time when I could experience that for myself.
I’m really grateful I had that opportunity to spend time with them, all the more so because they’ve both passed away since then. I think that experience, as well as my longing to have been close to them during my childhood, inspired much of Halmeoni’s character. While her relationship with Valerie wasn’t something I had myself, I know many people have close bonds with their grandparents and I’ve always thought that was very special.
CW: Made in Korea was just such a wonderful story that deftly balances the romance and the characters’ personal journeys, and I also loved your incredible cast of Korean characters. What was something that was really challenging in the writing process? And what are you most proud of?
Sarah: In terms of challenging, I definitely struggled with both Valerie’s parents and Wes’ parents. It took me a while to get their dynamics just right and to portray them in a way that felt both realistic and fleshed out. As for what I’m most proud of, from the very beginning I knew I wanted to write a full cast of Korean characters with varying diaspora experiences. At different points in the story, the characters talk about where they belong in the world and how they do or don’t connect with Korean culture as diaspora kids. In many ways, they understand each other because of their shared identity, but in other ways they have much to learn about each other because no one experience is the same. I feel like I was able to convey that well through Valerie and Wes and their friends, and I hope it comes across on the page!
CW: With Made in Korea releasing today (congratulations again!), what’s next for you? (And if you are already working on your next project, can you give us a clue – but in the vaguest way possible?)
Sarah: I have so many ideas that I hope I can share with you in book form one day! My current work in progress is pretty different from Made in Korea in that it’s not a romcom, though it still focuses heavily on Korean family dynamics. It also takes place in a setting that holds a special place in my heart.
CW: I have to do Valerie proud here – what is your favourite Hi-Chew flavour?
Sarah: I love a good classic strawberry!
CW: Thank you so much for visiting us today, Sarah! This is a question I love to ask all of our guests who visit: What is a food that reminds you of ‘home’ – wherever or whoever that may be?
Sarah: It’s got to be my mom’s kimchi sujebi (hand torn noodle soup). There’s nothing that says home to me more than that.
About the Author
Sarah Suk (pronounced like soup with a K) lives in Vancouver, Canada where she writes stories and admires mountains. When she’s not writing, you can find her hanging out by the water, taking film photos, or eating a bowl of bingsu. Made in Korea is her first novel. You can visit her online at sarahsuk.com and on Twitter and Instagram @sarahaelisuk.