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Not Your Average Jo: A Special Book-Themed Playlist

Today's guest post is from author Grace K. Shim, whose newest book Not Your Average Jo comes out this Tuesday. You can order a copy here.


Fresh starts.

Dreams pursued.

Broken hearts.

Hope renewed.

These are some themes expressed best through songs. They also happen to be the themes in my next young adult book, NOT YOUR AVERAGE JO. This is a story that is so close to my heart, there are moments of my past self embedded in some of the lines. And yet, when people ask me what this book is about, I have a tough time explaining it. I tried to put myself in the shoes of the main character, Riley Jo, and ask her what she would do. So please, bear with me as I summarize NOT YOUR AVERAGE JO in true Riley-form: through a playlist.


“Zero” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs

For aspiring singer/songwriter Riley Jo, who is a Korean American living in a predominantly white midwest town, she feels different from everyone else, and not in a good way. Though she feels like she’s had the same upbringing as her peers, people only see her as the resident expert on all things Asian and without getting to know the real her, she feels like a “Zero” in their eyes.

“Cool Kids” by Echosmith

When she finally gets her parents approval, she goes to Carlmont, a boarding school for the arts in Los Angeles. Surrounded by other arts-focused people, not to mention being embraced by an Asian American community she’s never had before, Riley is finally feeling like one of the “Cool Kids” for the first time in her life.

“Hello Goodbye” by The Beatles

But showbiz moves quickly. One day you’re in, the next you’re out. And just as soon as Riley is settling in, her band advisor, former lead singer of a one-hit-wonder 90s pop band, dismisses Riley as he assumes she plays K-pop (Hello Goodbye). Determined to prove him wrong, she sets out to find a way to make herself an invaluable asset to the band.

“Popular” by Albino Superstars

After striving to get her voice heard by her bandmates and advisor, she gets the opportunity to play an original song in front of a famed music producer. When it’s a hit, all of the sudden, Riley is everyone’s IT girl. But with this kind of attention, the complexities of being in the spotlight arise along with the pressures of superficiality and when Riley and her bandmates get offered a record deal, she is told must play backup on her own song because there is no market for a band with an Asian American female lead. Having come so far, she is unwilling to let it all go. But she wonders, is the only way to be “Popular” to compromise who she is?

“Epiphany” by BTS

Riley thought she needed people to accept her music in order to accept who she is as a person, but she has an “Epiphany” when she realizes she had it backwards all along. For people to understand who Riley Jo is, she must first accept herself.


You don’t have to be an Asian American female or an aspiring singer/songwriter to relate to Riley Jo. Because themes, like music, are a kind of universal language we inherently understand. And in a world that can be fixated on what sets us apart, it’s inspiring to know that there’s much that brings us together.

- Grace


About The Author: Grace grew up in Oklahoma as one of two Korean-Americans at her high school. Today, she writes books with Korean-American protagonists that she wished she had read about as a teen. Her newest book, Not Your Average Jo, comes out Tuesday.


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