By: Cait Marie
Originally posted on YA Books Central. I was provided a free copy of the book from the publisher for my honest review.
The groundbreaking Own Voices YA classic from Korean-American author Marie Myung-Ok Lee, reissued with a new foreword from Wicked Fox author Kat Cho.
Seventeen-year-old Ellen Sung just wants to be like everyone else at her all-white school. But hers is the only Korean American family in town, and her classmates in Arkin, Minnesota, will never let her forget that she’s different. At the start of senior year, Ellen finds herself falling for Tomper Sandel, a football player who is popular and blond and undeniably cute . . . and to her surprise, he falls for her, too. Now Ellen has a chance at a life she never imagined, one that defies the expectations of both her core friend group and her strict parents. But even as she stands up to racism at school and disapproval at home, all while pursuing a romance with Tomper, Ellen discovers that her greatest challenge is one she never expected: finding the courage to speak up and raise her voice.
I want to start by saying I had no idea this book was previously published and takes place in the 90s. I was about halfway through when I looked it up because there was mention of a payphone. That really goes to show how timeless this book is. Yes, some of the references are outdated, and some of the dialogue felt a little “off” before I knew when it took place, but the story and characters are still very relevant today.
Ellen is your average teenage girl wanting to fit in. But that’s not an easy thing being the only Korean-American family in a small town in Minnesota. Throughout the story, Ellen deals with bullying, the pressures of trying to please her parents, picking a college, and her first love. All of which could easily be found in a book written today. It’s a short, quick read, but it didn’t feel rushed. Certain aspects could have been expanded a little more, but I still really enjoyed the book.
The only thing I wasn’t overly fond of was what she ended up choosing for college. Not that I had an issue with the chosen school. The book is all about her finding her place and learning to speak up for herself and be independent. In that development, I thought she would have gone to school for something else, such as English since she showed interest in that class. So, I was a little sad to see that didn’t happen. She’d grown so much, and her choice didn’t feel like it matched up with the direction she’d been going. This didn’t impact my overall appreciation of the book though.
I will be the first to admit that I don’t read older books. I tend to stick to with those published in the last decade because it’s usually difficult for me to get into them otherwise. However, I had no trouble with this one, and it has made me reconsider trying others again. I’d definitely recommend this to readers who love coming of age stories, especially those that cover deeper topics such as bullying, peer pressure, and different cultures.