In a semi-autobiographical debut novel that is at turns poignant and laugh-out-loud funny, John Son conveys the uniqueness and universality of a Korean-American childhood.
Jin-Han begins his story with his first memory, when at age two he loses his hat to a sudden gust of wind. While he never finds that particular hat, his search for his "hat"--his identity--coincides with his family's search for their place in America. Struggles in Korea, losses during the Korean War, and the decision to leave behind loved ones to create a better future in a new, foreign place are all a part of Jin-Han's wise, funny story. But at the heart of this insightful novel is his coming of age and a growing awareness of others' perceptions of him.
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Grade 5-8-Jin-Han Park's earliest memory is of losing his hat to a strong wind in Chicago. The son of Korean immigrants, he seems to be blown around a lot himself, as his parents move from Chicago to Memphis to Houston searching for a better life and a place to establish their wig business. Son's first novel is a moving and sometimes hilarious portrait of a young immigrant trying to find his place between the culture of his parents and that of his friends and classmates. Set in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the book follows Jin-Han from the age of two to the death of his mother when he is in high school. Each memory, from wetting his pants in nursery school to the confusion and excitement of his first girlfriend, is endearing. Although Jin-Han is a fictional character, the author's note reveals that the story has many autobiographical elements. And while it is filled with descriptions of Korean food and culture (a glossary is appended), the feelings and experiences described are universal. One thing that may confuse readers early on is that Jin-Han's parents switch between Korean and English, a transition that is sometimes only indicated by the awkward grammar of their English speech. This is a minor complaint, though, in what is otherwise a beautifully written and deeply personal account of growing up.
Ashley Larsen, Woodside Library, CA
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Gr. 4-8. Like other entries in the First Person Fiction series, this debut novel about a first-generation American has autobiographical roots. In poignant, often funny anecdotes and language that is both spare and lively, Jin-Han describes growing up American with Korean parents in the 1970s and 1980s in several cities, finally ending up in Houston. From a preschool pants-wetting incident to adolescent smooching, Jin-Han's universal childhood traumas and triumphs mix with the particulars of his Korean family life: his parents' wig business; kimchi (pickled cabbage) stored in subterranean garbage cans in the backyard; racist remarks from strangers. After Jin-Han's mother dies of cancer, he is bewildered by the Korean funeral traditions he's expected to know. More difficult, though, is trying to find words for his grief, in any language: "Even if I had known enough Korean, I don't think I would've been able to say what I felt." Readers of all backgrounds will recognize themselves in this absorbing novel. An appended glossary defines the many Korean words used in text. Gillian Engberg
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Book Description Orchard, 2003. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX0439435382
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