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Fiction Book Review : Mina by Kim Sagwa

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Kim’s English-language debut shines a light on the unique pressures faced by Korean teenagers, and the darker sides of adolescent rage. Outwardly, Crystal seems like an average teen: clever, beautiful, and confident, she studies hard for cram school, goes to karaoke, and has a rotating cast of boyfriends she discards with ease. Her best friend is the titular Mina, whose older brother, Minho, is the boy Crystal has a crush on, and with whom Crystal has a refreshingly realistic and caustic relationship.

 

But when Pak Chiye, a girl from their high school and Mina’s childhood friend, kills herself by jumping from the roof of their school building, Mina is greatly affected, withdrawing from school and growing depressed. For Crystal, this serves as something of a trigger, with her behavior becoming increasingly more erratic as she must reconcile her own sense of self with the pressures placed on young people by a society where “reward means suffering and suffering means reward.”

 

This escalates into random acts of violence, which stand out from the dialogue- and detail-heavy novel as particularly chilling and heartbreaking. As a writer, Kim is wordy and specific, sometimes too concerned with the minutiae of an interaction and drawing attention away from the story at large. But as a cartographer and guide of the teenage experience, she is an expert, crafting an unsettling, deeply felt, and ultimately devastating depiction of the turmoil of youth. (Oct.)

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