I am thrilled to be hosting a spot on the ONCE UPON A K-PROM by Kat Cho Blog Tour hosted by Rockstar Book Tours. Check out my post and make sure to enter the giveaway!
About The Book:
Title: ONCE UPON A K-PROM
Author: Kat Cho
Pub. Date: May 17, 2022
Formats: Hardcover, eBook, Audiobook
What would you do if the world’s biggest K-pop star asked you to prom? Perfect for fans of Jenny Han and Sandhya Menon, this hilarious and heartfelt novel brings the glamour and drama of the K-pop world straight to high school.
Elena Soo has always felt overshadowed. Whether by her more successful older sisters, her more popular twin brother, or her more outgoing best friend, everyone except Elena seems to know exactly who they are and what they want. But she is certain about one thing – she has no interest in going to prom. While the rest of the school is giddy over corsages and dresses, Elena would rather spend her time working to save the local community center, the one place that’s always made her feel like she belonged.
So when international K-pop superstar Robbie Choi shows up at her house to ask her to prom, Elena is more confused than ever. Because the one person who always accepted Elena as she is? Her childhood best friend, Robbie Choi. And the one thing she maybe, possibly, secretly wants more than anything? For the two of them to keep the promise they made each other as kids: to go to prom together. But that was seven years ago, and with this new K-pop persona, pink hair, and stylish clothes, Robbie is nothing like the sweet, goofy boy she remembers. The boy she shared all her secrets with. The boy she used to love.
Besides, prom with a guy who comes with hordes of screaming fans, online haters, and relentless paparazzi is the last thing Elena wants – even if she can’t stop thinking about Robbie’s smile…right?
When most people think of prom, they probably picture dresses and limos and dancing the night away with their dream date. When I think of prom, I picture aching feet, overpriced decorations, and unrealistic expectations.
Obviously, I was in the minority, though. As was proof by the long line of upper classmen willing to spend their entire lunch period standing in line to buy prom tickets.
It was day three of ticket sales, which meant it was also day three of the Awareness Club’s Alterna-Prom Initiative.
It was…not going great.
Okay, fine, it was a big fat failure.
We’d set up a station where students could donate their change to West Pinebrook’s Community Center after buying tickets.
“Any more donations?” I asked, leaning over the table.
Max Cohen shook his head. “Sorry, Elena.”
I glared at the jar. It was almost empty. The dollar bill I’d placed in there was still the only donation. I’d thought maybe having money already would make us look less pathetic, but it just looked sadder somehow.
I glanced at my carefully written spreadsheet. I’d made it to track potential donations. We were way behind what I’d projected. But I guess I hadn’t factored in teenage apathy.
“Has anyone taken a pamphlet?” I glared at the suspiciously full pile.
“To do that they’d have to stop avoiding our table like we all had the plague.” Josie rolled her eyes.
I’d spent days writing those pamphlets up, included photos of the kids from the community center at last year’s holiday party and the fundraiser website to donate online. It explained that we weren’t telling people not to go to prom, but to rethink how they spent their money on the dance.
That’s why my best friend, Josie Flores, had come up with the term “alterna-prom initiative” even though I worried it was a little wordy and confusing. It hadn’t helped though. Everyone just thought we were flat out protesting prom.
“Come on, El, if they won’t take a pamphlet, let’s just hand them out,” Josie said, stepping out from behind the table. She was willow thin with smooth brown skin, a pretty narrow face, and dark hair that framed it in curls. It was everything I used to wish for when I was little instead of my round Korean face, short legs, and flat stick-straight black hair.
“I’ll help!” Max jumped up.
“No, you guard the table and the…dollar,” Josie said, eyeing the sad jar.
I gave him an “I’m sorry” shrug at getting stuck with table duty again. But he dutifully sat back down. He’d do anything for Josie.
Since sophomore year, he always mooned at her behind his wire-rimmed glasses. They weirdly worked on him, like nerdy white boy chic. His curly hair used to be cropped short in middle school, but he’d grown it out now and it flopped into his eyes. It was cute in a Shawn Mendes kind of way.
Josie started down the line, handing pamphlets out, making sure each person at least opened it before she moved on. She didn’t seem to mind the annoyed looks she got or the rude comments. I wish I could be that confident, not to care what everyone thought of me.
“They’re in trouble of losing funding,” I said to a group of juniors I’d just handed pamphlets to. None had opened them. So I took one and opened it myself to a bullet point list of ways to save on prom. “Instead of spending hundreds on limos and dresses and tuxedos, you could just wear an old suit or a dress from rent-the-runway and drive yourself. Then donate what you saved to the center.”
“Hey, you’re Ethan Soo’s sister right?” One of them squinted at me as if trying to see the family resemblance.
I sighed. It was common for kids to remember my brother before they remembered something as pesky as my actual name. He was the popular twin after all.
“I’m Elena,” I mumbled. “So, back to the community center, if you don’t have any extra cash right now, there’s an online donation site you can use too.”
They all just blinked at me before returning to their conversation about some new movie that had just released. Were these people heartless? Did they not see the adorable children smiling out at them from the pamphlet?
“I’m sorry,” I tried to get their attention again, but they kept ignoring me.
“El, you gotta stop apologizing all the time,” Josie said, walking over. She was down to her last few pamphlets and I felt guilty that I still had a full pile.
“I can’t help it.” I frowned because she was right. It was just such a knee-jerk reaction for me to constantly apologize every time I felt even an inkling that someone felt uncomfortable around me.
“I don’t think this is working,” Josie said, scowling at the line of students doing their best to ignore us. “I think we’ll have to use more radical methods.”
“Well, unless you want to go full Robin Hood, I think pamphlets and peaceful protest are all we’ve got right now.” I sighed.
“I have something to help our cause,” Josie said, taking off toward the exit.
“As long as it doesn’t make a mess!” I called after her, but I wasn’t sure if she heard me as she pushed out of the cafeteria.
As I waited for Josie to return, the line moved up and a girl swung her bag into me as she turned to talk to her friend.
“Can you find somewhere else to stand?” she asked, huffing in annoyance.
“Sorry,” I mumbled before I could stop myself.
“Did you see her weird-ass pamphlets?” the girl’s friend said, not caring that I was standing right there. “Imagine spending all your time trying to ruin prom.”
I sighed and stepped back, turning away from the line and the annoyed glares. I wasn’t trying to ruin prom. I just didn’t see the allure of it. I’d watched every one of my three older sisters get excited about the dance only to come home let down in some way or another at the end of the night. It gives perspective to a kid, even if I was only ten.
I leaned against a lunch table as I waited for Josie to get back. It was filled with a group of freshmen girls sighing over a music video playing on one of their phones. I could barely hear it over the loud volume of voices crashing through the cafeteria, but I recognized the group: WDB.
WDB had achieved something no other K-pop group had done for over a decade: entered the hearts of teens across the whole globe and somehow became the first Korean group to win an MTV music award and American Music Award, which got them invited to other award shows, and they’d even performed on SNL. It was all so impressive, but there was an extra layer of surrealness for me as the face of the main rapper, Robbie Choi, graced the screen. It was a face I knew well even though it had lost all of the baby fat that had puffed up his cheeks when we were ten. We’d been best friends. I knew things about him that weren’t written in his official profile.
I knew how he got that little scar through his eyebrow. (He’d fallen out of a wardrobe during an epic game of manhunter and into the edge of a coffee table.)
I knew that even though he was famous now for his luscious locks that had been dyed the whole rainbow during his career, he’d once let me shave a stripe through it because we’d wanted to see if we could write his name in his hair. (Spoiler: we could not. And yes, we did get into epic trouble with our parents after that stunt.)
Now there were girls swooning over him and giggling whenever his face popped up on screen.
To be honest, I’d once been just like everyone else, looking forward to a magical prom night filled with slow dancing and perfectly posed photos. But I’d always imagined it with a specific person. And since he was no longer in this country, let alone this town…it’s pretty obvious why ten-year-old Elena’s dream prom plan would never actually happen. And when you knew something wouldn’t work out, it was best to move on.
“Robbie is my bias!” one girl declared and I almost wanted to tell her about that time Robbie had fallen into mud during our third-grade trip. I’d had to walk behind him the rest of the day so no one thought he’d pooped his pants.
Or maybe I’d explain how he’d forgotten all his old friends when he got famous…
“JD is my bias. He’s just so…mysterious.”
I watched as another member of WDB gave a sly wink. I’d never met JD even though he was Robbie’s older cousin. I had to admit it was a pretty catchy song. And perhaps I’d found myself downloading a few of WDB’s singles. But it was still so weird for me to think of my childhood bestie as a heartthrob.
I remembered the last day I’d seen Robbie. We’d been ten and we stood in front of his empty house. All of his stuff had already been shipped over to Seoul ahead of his family. I’d had friends move before. Becca Kuss had moved to Ohio in first grade. And Emily B. had moved to the next town over last year. But Robbie was my best friend and he wasn’t moving twenty miles away. He was moving to the other side of the world. We’d clutched each other, tears streaming down our faces. Robbie’s nose had been as red as a cherry. I told him so and he said mine made me look like Rudolph. And then we’d hugged again.
“I’ll email you every day,” I’d promised.
“I’ll message you every day,” Robbie had said. “You downloaded Kakaotalk, right?”
I’d nodded. I’d never used the Korean messaging app before, but Robbie had said it worked all over the world, so no matter where we went we’d be able to talk.
“And I’ll come back when we’re in high school and we’ll go to prom together,” he’d said with a wide grin. “And we’ll take pictures just like Sarah’s with those silly flower bracelets.”
“They’re called corsages,” I told him. “And only girls get them.”
“Says who?” Robbie pouted.
I laughed. “I don’t know. Fine, we’ll get matching corsages.”
“But I want mine to be made out of Legos,” Robbie said.
“Then I want mine to be made out of butterflies!” I said.
“Ew! Like dead bugs!?”
“What?” I squeaked, horrified. “No! Like fake ones!”
“Nope. You want to wear dead bugs. You’re a dead bug wearer!” Robbie taunted and despite our tears and our impending parting, he made me laugh. And I took off after him, chasing him around the yard until his mother called him to get in the car.
“See you at prom,” Robbie said before climbing in.
I’d watched him drive away until I couldn’t see him anymore.
And in the last seven years, he’d become a part of the biggest K-pop boy group of all time and I wouldn’t be caught dead at prom.
“Here it is!” Josie crowed as she returned, snapping me out of my memories. She held up a megaphone.
“What am I supposed to do with this?” I asked. “And why did you have this in your locker?”
“It was from our save the whales rally,” Josie said. And I remembered with horrible flashbacks of watching Josie dressed as a whale, marching through the courtyard with her megaphone. “Use it to rile up the crowd.” Josie held it out. “Give a speech. Get people excited.”
“I’m not really a public speaker.” I folded my hands behind my back. In fact, I’d had to quit debate club because I couldn’t stand in front of the twelve other kids and argue my point without turning bright red.
“El, I keep telling you that you can’t be a good activist unless you get over your fear of speaking in public,” Josie said. I didn’t have the heart to tell Josie that I didn’t think activism was really in my future. At this point I was only still in the club for her.
“Come on,” Josie said, dragging me back to the prom ticket table.
Caroline Anderson and Felicity Fitzgerald sat behind the table, accepting cash for the fancy embossed tickets. They were both pretty white cheerleaders, the kind of perfect looks that graced CW shows and teen movies. Currently, they both wore their cheerleading uniforms even though it wasn’t a game day. I guess they thought the school spirit would flow through them and into the ticket buyers who were plopping down a whopping $60 per ticket.
“Elena, tell the truth,” Caroline said, resting her chin on her fists. “You hate the prom because you know no one will ask you.”
I froze, my mouth falling open. “What? No, I don’t care about that stuff.”
“Oh, come on, Elena. You were super jealous when I got my first boyfriend in seventh grade,” Felicity piped up.
“Really?” Caroline asked, her sharp eyes sparkling with glee.
“Yea, she pouted for a whole week and didn’t even come to my birthday party in protest.” Felicity let out a laugh.
I’d been sick that weekend and my mom wouldn’t let me go to her party. But I knew if I said that now it would sound like an empty excuse and just throw more fuel on Felicity and Caroline’s fire.
Felicity and I had been close once. After Robbie had left I’d had no one to hang out with and in middle school I’d somehow glommed onto Felicity and her small girl gang until my decision not to go out for cheerleading in ninth grade made me outcast worthy. I still remember the day after cheerleader try outs in the lunchroom when Felicity went full-on Gretchen Wieners shouting, “You can’t sit with us!” Except less pink.
Josie nudged my shoulder, “Come on, El. Don’t let them get to you.”
She pulled up a chair and stood on it, shouting into the megaphone. “Attention everyone! We have an announcement to make.”
She stepped down and pushed the megaphone at me.
“I can’t get up there,” I whispered, trying to push it back.
“Just think of the community center.”
“Is the announcement that you finally realize how pathetic your silly protest is?” Caroline called out and Felicity laughed.
It made me remember that freshman lunch where she friend-dumped me in front of the whole cafeteria. Which incensed me enough to climb onto the chair and lift the megaphone.
But as I looked at all the staring faces my mouth quickly became so dry I couldn’t even get out a squeak. I felt like I was sweating, but when I rubbed my hand over my forehead it came away dry. I looked at Josie who gave me a thumbs up and I pressed the button. I cleared my throat and a high-pitched feedback sound made me wince. But at least it got the attention of the cafeteria. All eyes were on me now. Oh goody. I took a deep breath and remembered Josie’s advice: just speak from your heart.
“Um, hi,” I muttered and the megaphone squeaked again. “Sorry.”
Josie pinched my leg and mouthed, Don’t apologize.
I nodded and I cleared my throat again.
Remember the community center, I reminded myself. Show them your passion and they can’t ignore you.
“Um, so I’m here to talk about a place that means a lot to me.” I glanced nervously at Josie and she mouthed speak from your heart. “And…and it also means a lot to this whole community.” Some of the freshman at the tables closest to me were watching and they weren’t laughing or sneering, so there was that at least. So I kept going. “I don’t know if anyone remembers what the west side was like when we were kids. But less than ten years ago there wasn’t a lot there. Just the old, closed factory and not even any parks.”
A few kids nodded. Pinebrook High served this whole area, which included kids from the middle school in the west side. It bolstered me to see that recognition of my words so my next came out smoother. “West Pinebrook’s Community Center repurposed the factory to create a safe space for kids from the west side elementary and middle schools to go afterschool. Miss Cora, who runs it, says that a building can become more than bricks and windows if it’s filled with passion and love. Isn’t a place like that worth fighting for? Aren’t you tired of adults saying we’re wasting away with our noses stuck in our phones?”
I saw Josie shake her head and noticed some of the kids frown and turn away. Oh crap, I was losing them. The freshman girls who’d been watching the WDB video looked supremely pissed off. I started fumbling my words as I tried to finish so I could go hide. “S-so, if you want to show how passionate our generation can be, you can just donate what you’d spend on dresses or limos to keep an important neighborhood institution open!” I tried my best to channel Josie’s spirit and lifted my hand in the air. “Together we can make a difference!”
There was a thick silence until Max tried to start a slow clap which sounded sad and pathetic when no one joined in. Josie let out an enthusiastic whoop that echoed throughout the cafeteria. But, disappointingly, most of the students went back to their lunches.
Caroline stormed out from behind the ticket table, her blonde pony-tail swinging furiously. “This has to be illegal,” she complained. “You can’t just sit here shouting in our ears all of lunch.”
Josie stepped forward and folded her arms. The two were the same height, so they were a pretty even match. Except, if I were a betting girl, I’d put my money on Josie. “Sorry to tell you this, but the school charter says that students can hold rallies as long as they are not disrupting class periods or using vulgar language,” Josie said with a shrug.
Felicity joined her friend and rolled her hazel eyes up at me. “Elena, if I get my dad to donate $1,000 to your dumb community center will that shut you up?”
I stepped down from the chair. “Sure,” I said and Felicity folded her arms, a smile of triumph spreading on her too-pretty-for-her-own-good face. “For now at least. Every little bit helps, Felicity. But that won’t be enough. If you donate what you’d have spent on your nails, your hair, your dress, limo, tickets, and dinner. If you got all your friends to do it, too. Then think about how far that would go. Don’t you want to do something good with your popularity?”
Felicity stared down her nose at me, and for a fleeting second I thought she might be considering it. Then a sneer lifted her lips. “You’re delusional, Soo. How do you expect to change anyone’s mind about prom when your own twin isn’t listening to you.” She nodded past my shoulder.
I turned and spotted Ethan standing in line.
“Ethan,” I groaned. This did look bad, betrayed by my own flesh and blood.
Ethan and I were proof that any theories about twins having an innate connection were total baloney. The two of us were polar opposites. Ethan was charismatic and the kind of cute that was annoying because my classmates always tried to get information about him from me. While I was awkward and completely forgettable. He’d been on the varsity lacrosse team since freshman year and sat with the “popular kids” in the courtyard for lunch. I usually ate lunch with Josie in the journalism room. And now, it seemed, Ethan and I were on opposite sides of this prom debate.
Ethan gave me a shrug and a wry smile. “Sorry, Twin, it’s just that you know prom tickets are discounted the first week on sale.”
Usually, hearing him call me “twin” made me smile even as I wanted to roll my eyes. But this time I was just annoyed.
“You know how important the community center is to me, Ethan.”
“I do, but I just…I want to get discount prom tickets.”
Ethan didn’t get it. He never really cared about anything I did. As I started to turn back, Caroline pulled the megaphone from my hand.
“Hey!” I tried to grab it but she danced back.
She lifted it to her mouth. “Announcement! I’ve decided to host a pre-prom party at my place. Why limit the fun to just one night? But you have to have a prom ticket to get an invite!”
A cheer went up and the kids in line surged forward as if suddenly the prom tickets were a limited commodity.
It was like that scene in The Lion King when Simba is staring wide-eyed at the stampeding wildebeests. Except there was no Mufasa to save me as I tried to back out of the path of the surging crowd.
Of course, with my awful luck, I forgot about the chair behind me. And instead of scrambling to safety, I felt my feet tangle with the metal legs. I heard Josie shout my name as I tried to keep my balance, but the chair won the battle and I fell backwards, my arms pin-wheeling like a cartoon character as I tried to catch by balance. I ended up sprawled on the sticky ground of the cafeteria.
My hands, which I’d thrown out to catch myself were covered in some kind of gooey substance, and my hip was throbbing from meeting the edge of a table on my way down. I watched as the kids trampled my pamphlets, crumpling them as they crowded around a triumphant Caroline.
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. 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 internationally bestselling author of the Gumiho duology (Penguin) and Once Upon a K-Prom (Disney).
1 winner will receive a finished copy of ONCE UPON A K-PROM, US Only.
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