The Perfect Escape: A Review

The Perfect Escape by Suzanne ParkNate Jae-Woo Kim is a young entrepreneur with his eye on the prize. By which he means money. With college ahead, a much younger sister, and parents already stretched thin Nate’s main goal is to make lots of money so his family can stop struggling.

Which is why it’s so tempting when one of his entitled classmares offers Nate an obscene amount of money to help him cheat and manipulate the grading curve. The money on offer would be life changing. But so would the legal ramifications if Nate participates in this level of fraud.

Sometimes Kate Anderson feels like all she has is money. After her mother’s death Kate certainly doesn’t have her father’s attention. Or his support.

Which is why Kate’s new job at a zombie-themed escape room has to remain secret. Playing a zombie is exactly what Kate needs to stretch her makeup skills and keep a hand in when it comes to acting until she earns enough money to move out and try her luck in New York’s theater scene.

Surprisingly, a zombie-themed survivalist competition could help both Nate and Kate get exactly what they need. Together. Teaming up to win the zombie run would mean a big cash prize–even if it’s split. What neither of them counted on is the fact that secrets–and growing feelings–could be just as dangerous as zombies in The Perfect Escape (2020) by Suzanne Park.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Perfect Escape alternates first person narration between Nate–who is Korean American–and Kate–who is white. The audiobook narrators–Raymond J. Lee and Kate Rudd–do an excellent job of bringing these characters to life.

Park’s background as a stand-up comedian is on full display in this laugh-out-loud funny story where all’s fair between love and zombies. Although Nate and Kate start with a lot of secrets between them their obvious chemistry comes across in banter filled dialog and their adventure filled trek through the zombie run.

Nate is a no-nonsense character very focused on his future (by which he still means money) and I knew he was my favorite as soon as he detailed his deep admiration of Scrooge McDuck (described by Nate: “Scrooge McDuck was rich, focused, and no-nonsense.”). Kate’s troubled home life and her own aspirations further flesh out this dynamic duo. Fast-paced action and a race that will test both wits and loyalty serve as the perfect backdrop for Nate and Kate’s blossoming relationship as both characters wonder if sticking together might be more important than sticking to their plans.

The Perfect Escape is a quirky, often hilarious story where getting what you want might mean incapacitating a few zombies along the way.

Possible Pairings: This Will Be Funny Someday by Katie Henry, There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon, The Knockout by Sajni Patel, Drizzle, Dreams, and Lovestruck Things by Maya Prasad, Geek Girl by Holly Smale, Love Decoded by Jennifer Yen, Super Fake Love Song by David Yoon

Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous by Suzanne ParkSunny Song has big plans for the summer before her senior year in high school. She’s ready to maximize time with her best friend Maya and maybe finally get out of the friend zone with her forever crush Rafael Kim. Sunny also has big plans for her social media platform with new ideas and content that will get her to 100k followers.

Summer has barely started when all of Sunny’s plans go out the window. First, she’s called into the principal’s office on the last of school because of concerns about the amount she posts during the day (it’s called pre-scheduling) and the lack of anonymity when she mentions other students (is it really her fault that a vanity plate like “on fiyah” is so unique?).

Arguing with her parents about her social media platforms is nothing new. But even Sunny is surprised when her latest live cooking video accidentally turns PG-13 and goes viral as #BrownieGate and, worse, #BrowniePorn. Which is the last straw for her parents who immediately derail Sunny’s summer with a one month digital detox at the Sunshine Heritage Farms camp in Iowa.

Coming from California, Sunny is unprepared for the humidity, the farm animals, the absence of fast food, and the utter lack of WiFi or access to her devices. If Sunny wants to keep up the #BrownieGate momentum, she knows she has to find a way back online this summer even as she tries to disconnect. As Sunny discover new friendships, a boy named Theo who is as annoyingly fond of farm puns as he is cute, and some other new connections, she’ll learn that sometimes you have to go offline to really grow in Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous (2021) by Suzanne Park.

Find it on Bookshop.

Park’s latest YA contemporary is a laugh-out-loud funny story grounded in real tips and tricks for digital detox from experts like Cal Newport and Catherine Price. Although the Sunny’s camp experience pulls advice from real resources, Sunny doesn’t get the benefit of those texts adding to the humor and drama as she works through the process with help from camp counselors.

Sunny is Korean-American. Maya, her best friend in California, and Sunny’s new camp friend Delina are both Black. While the focus of the story is squarely on Sunny’s digital detox and ensuing shenanigans, Park also includes some smart moments throughout the story as Sunny deals with micro-aggressions at camp and a conversation with Delina (who grew up in Korea and filmed mukbang videos where she would eat local cuisine) highlights the kinds of harassment some content creators, especially people of color, can experience.

Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous is a book about social media and content creation that actually understands both while still focusing on timeless themes as Sunny tries to figure out who she wants to be (aside from a famous content creator). Park presents a realistically handled detox journey for Sunny throughout the story. At the same time, she also points out the excitement and connection that can be found through technology offering a refreshingly nuanced perspective. Come for the humor, the friendship, and the romance. Stay for the commentary on social media.

Flawless pacing combined with Sunny’s brutally honest and witty narration make Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous a must read. Highly recommended.

You can also check out my interview with Suzanne here on the blog.

Possible Pairings: Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear, The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo, You Have a Match by Emma Lord, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown, Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport, How To Break Up With Your Phone: The 30-Day Plan to Take Back Your Life by Catherine Price, If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say by Leila Sales, Follow Your Arrow by Jess Verdi, Sunkissed by Kasie West, The Social Dilemma (Netflix documentary)

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Author Interview: Suzanne Park on Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous

Suzanne Park author photoSuzanne Park is the author of several contemporary romances for both adult and teen readers. Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous, her latest YA, is a laugh-out-loud-funny story of a mid-range teen influencer who is sent to a digital detox camp on a farm in Iowa after one of her live baking videos accidentally turns PG-13. I’m very happy to have Suzanne here to answer a few questions about her latest book which has already become one of my favorites.

Miss Print: Can you tell me a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?

Suzanne Park: I was a kid who loved reading, but was limited by the types of books we had at our school library and public library system. I grew up in a small suburb in Nashville with underfunded schools and libraries, so you can imagine how limited the selection of books was for a curious Korean-American girl growing up in Tennessee!

It never occurred to me that I could be an author one day. I didn’t do particularly well in my English classes and my HS English teachers didn’t think AP English was a good fit for me. There weren’t any creative writing classes offered in my high school, and in college the closest courses they offered at the time were for poetry and journalism.

As an adult though, I took a lot of writing classes (one was held at an old Best Western in downtown Seattle) and had picked up stand-up comedy along the way. By doing stand up, I was able to refine my joke writing and hone my voice.

My first novel I drafted was an absolute disaster. It was a three-hundred page blog entry about pretty much nothing. I cleaned it up considerably and submitted the manuscript into a mentorship contest called Pitch Wars in 2016. In this contest, my mentors helped me with plotting, planting (foreshadowing) and pacing. After a few rounds of intensive rewrites, my three-hundred page blog post turned into a real novel. From there I got a literary agent, and years later, wrote and sold my adult and YA debut novels.

Miss Print: What was the inspiration for Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous?

Suzanne: I was inspired to write SUNNY SONG WILL NEVER BE FAMOUS after watching a Korean documentary about game addiction. The story followed five teenagers who were sent to internet addiction camps in rural areas for treatment. It made me wonder if we had camps like these in the U.S. (they don’t). So then the question for me became, what if I wrote a novel about a teen who was sent away to a digital detox camp? Around the same time, I went out to dinner with my family and noticed that nearly everyone at this nice restaurant was constantly checking their phone. It made me think hard about how society had evolved such that this had become the norm. After I turned in my finished book to my editor, the Netflix documentary THE SOCIAL DILEMMA released. It raised a lot of issues and challenges with social media and technology, and I had included many of the same points in my novel.

Miss Print: Sunny’s relationship with social media and her phone is complex to say the least. What’s your own relationship to tech and social media like? Do you have a favorite platform? Least favorite?

Suzanne: I have my high engagement days and “off” days. After doing so much digital detox research, I’m better able to recognize and control my consumption, but it’s not easy. My favorite platform is Instagram, and I’ve started to use Clubhouse more regularly. I find Twitter a little scary and I’m too wordy for the character limit, but I still engage when I think of something that makes more sense on that platform. I actually downloaded TikTok a long time ago, but took it off my phone pretty soon after that because of security breach concerns. I never put it back on my phone.

Miss Print: Sunny’s experiences throughout the book, both at Sunshine Farms and as an influencer, might seem far-fetched but (minus the farm animals) are all grounded in real content creator concerns as well as actual tips and tricks from experts to have a better relationship with technology. What reading and research did you do to get these details right?

Suzanne: As part of the research for this book, I read tech articles, listened to business podcasts, read tech company financial statements and books like DIGITAL MINIMALISM, ESSENTIALISM and ATOMIC HABITS. These books are tech and/or business-focused ones that teens don’t typically read. I distilled some of the main points and themes from these books and included them in SUNNY SONG in a way that I hope can help teens think about their media usage and better understand the tech companies’ motivations behind the technology. After all of my research, my social media consumption has gone way down. Oh! I also read books about farming and read Laura Ingalls Wilder novels, Charlotte’s Web and Anne of Green Gables to get the setting right.

Miss Print: We’re living in a strange time with the pandemic as we all continue to wear masks, practice social distancing, and work together to stop the spread of Covid-19. So, of course, I have to ask: How would Sunny and your other characters be handling the pandemic?

Suzanne: I try hard to emphasize in the book that social media isn’t necessarily “bad,” but rather tech companies have motivations and incentives that you may not be aware of, and people have control over how they’re spending their time. Using tech platforms to connect with friends and family for enjoyment can be wonderful. But it’s the mindless scrolling and extreme focus on online personas that can be unhealthy, and I would hope after the camp experience they’d be more aware of it. I can absolutely see Sunny, her new farm mates, and close friends using this time to stay connected, trying “high value” funny and possibly over-the-top and absurd things to pass the time.

Miss Print: You have written books both for adult readers and teens. Does your writing process change depending on your audience? How do you know when you’ve found the right voice for your story?

Suzanne: My writing process doesn’t change much between age groups… I seem to dive head first into doing research with almost everything I write, whether it’s about gaming, or zombies or farms! I do focus hard on voice and try to accurately reflect the views of teens and adults given realistic life experiences of my characters. So my teens stumble through life and figure lots of things out for themselves. My adults will have more life experiences yet may have more deeply ingrained beliefs or misbeliefs that guide their decisions and actions.

I don’t always nail the voice at first, sometimes I have to rewrite the first few pages to get the main character’s perspective right.

Miss Print: Can you tell me anything about your next release?

Suzanne: SUNNY SONG WILL NEVER BE FAMOUS is a coming-of-age story featuring a Korean-American L.A. based teen influencer Sunny Song who is sent to a digital detox camp in Iowa. It explores themes of social media obsession, identity, and what it means to be truly connected. This book releases June 1st.

SO WE MEET AGAIN is a part coming-of-age story, part love story in which a young Korean American woman discovers that finding a new career and new love means learning to embrace the awkward and unexpected—exploring familial expectations, finding your voice, and unimaginably falling for your childhood rival. This book comes out later in the summer, August 3rd.

Miss Print: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?

Suzanne: I took so many detours before I became an author, so I always urge writers of all ages to not give up. I read broadly and encourage others to do the same— it really helps you figure out what type of writing you like to read, and also helps you see what you don’t enjoy reading, which is just as important.

No two writers are the same, and you might need time to figure out what works for you, whether it’s writing a little every day or writing large chunks in a workshop, sprinting with friends or writing alone without distractions, or plotting versus winging it.

And finally, don’t assume all writers understood and loved Shakespeare. In high school I failed many quizzes and essays about Shakespeare…it doesn’t determine your destiny!

Thank you again to Suzanne for these great answers! You can find out more about all of Suzanne’s books on her website.

You can also read my review of Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous here on the blog.