b, Book, and Me by Kim Sagwa, translated by Sunhee Jeong [in Booklist]
Although set in a coastal suburb outside Seoul, the cycle of neglect by stressed or careless adults can and does happen anywhere. In such an all-too-familiarly indifferent environment, lauded Korean writer Kim Sagwa (Mina, 2018) introduces three misfits: two teen girls and a socially-outcast, self-isolated young man, each struggling for their very existence.
The titular “Me” is Rang, whose disengaged parents provide financial privilege but care little about her actual well-being. She’s relentlessly abused by the boys in her class, while teachers turn a blind eye. Her only protector and friend is “b,” whose family’s poverty keeps her trapped “where people who are ruined live.” The pair are rarely parted, avoiding boredom and responsibility by wandering the city, drinking coffee at a downtown café ironically named Alone, where they meet “a strange guy” named Book – who does nothing but, well, read books. When Rang inexplicably exposes b’s private tribulations during a writing class, b severs their friendship and disappears. The cycles of abuse resume, but power shifts prove inevitable.
At turns raw and piercing, dreamy and surreal, Kim’s latest import – urgently Anglophone-enabled by scholar/editor/Seoul-based translator Sunhee Jeong – is a pressing indictment of today’s too-often onerous transition toward uncertain adulthood.
YA/Mature Readers: Bullying, neglect, and abuse are all topics that, sadly, will resonate with older teen readers.
Readers: Young Adult, Adult
Published: 2020 (United States)