Shelter, by Jung Yun

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Five stars, read in November 2016.

This book was my choice for fiction in the first two rounds of the Goodreads Choice Awards, but it was eliminated from the final round. 

I read for two hours past my bedtime because that’s how long it took to find a place I could bear to put this book down.

I was completely enthralled by it, and I would absolutely love to read more by the author. But the longer I think about it since finishing, the more I’m upset by the way Gillian was written. As long as it’s the norm to portray women as irrational, as unreasonably demanding in their relationships with men, I’m going to be hyper-critical of these portrayals. And I don’t understand how Gillian, so smart and steady and caring, who is studying for her master’s degree in school counseling, can respond to Kyung the way she does, regarding his relationship with his parents.

SPOILERS UNTIL THE FINAL PARAGRAPH OF THE POST

Okay: You don’t blame the victim of abuse for not being able to forgive—and have a close relationship with—their abuser. You do not do that.

It’s even more egregious when that abuse was child abuse, violent and emotional and lasting his entire childhood. Gillian comes to Kyung, needing to know whether or not their son Ethan will be safe from Kyung’s parents. She comforts Kyung, telling him he’s been a good son, that he had every right to cut them out of his life completely, that he was admirable for figuring out how to keep them in his life when he didn’t have to.

And yet when Kyung’s parents are brutally attacked in their own home, held hostage over two days, his mother violently raped, and now have to come stay with Kyung and Gillian, in their small house, in their own life that is completely falling apart, all their credit cards completely maxed out so that he’s not even sure which one he can use to buy his father some sweatpants and toiletries from Wal-Mart—in this horrifying situation, with so many layers of unbelievable trauma, Gillian displays a pretty bewildering lack of understanding for Kyung’s struggle to handle it all.

It only gets worse later, when Kyung finally, unpleasantly, expresses the feelings he has had bottled up for his entire life, finally telling his parents that he won’t pretend for them anymore. Her reaction, particularly after Mae and Marina are discovered missing the next day, is just so heartless. I honestly can’t understand it.

/ SPOILERS

I’m posting this a couple weeks after having finished the book, and I almost feel I want to reread it already. It really is excellently written, structured around some pretty intense plot elements, but focused primarily on Kyung’s internal journey to deal with the trauma of his childhood. Jung Yun doesn’t have any other books out, so I’ll just have to hope she writes more soon.

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