A River in Darkness (Book Review)

A River in Darkness (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
…well, you can’t love a book about another’s real-life suffering

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

A River in Darkness

By Masaji Ishikawa

Information
Inspiration
Writing Craft
Moral Value

What if you exchanged a life of freedom for one of complete bondage?

This account was devastating to read. I can’t imagine how devastating it was to live through.

The atrocities that the North Korean government committed against its people are horrific. (And it’s still happening.) Masaji had a unique perspective because he spent his childhood in Japan, so when his family moved to North Korea when he was 13, he completely understood what they’d left behind…the “other” world that was “out there.” I can only imagine how those memories tortured him (and his family).

This book shows where communism leads…eventually. It’s bad.

I will say that this account is very sad, front to back. I wish that it ended on a happier note, but it ends on an honest one. If you’re hoping for a soaring tale of hope, this isn’t it.

4
Book Uncle and Me (Book Review)

Book Uncle and Me (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
you’ve got a bookwormy kid who needs an easy read

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

Book Uncle and Me

By Uma Krishnaswami

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

Can one little girl save her neighborhood lending library?

This was one of the read-alouds that came with our homeschool curriculum. It was very quick, and my boys liked it, but it’s not going down as a family favorite.

The most interesting part of this story is the setting in India. A lot of our recent read-alouds have been set in the U.S. or in fantasyland, so this was a nice change, and it gave us a chance to discuss how things are different in other countries than they are here.

The main character is a young girl, Yasmin, who loves to read. She gets a new book every day from Book Uncle, a retired teacher who has a lending library on the street corner outside her apartment complex. When he’s forced to close up shop, Yasmin rallies the neighborhood to make Book Uncle a campaign issue in the mayoral election.

Thankfully, this didn’t get TOO political, and I think that the message here is “If it matters to you, then make it known” versus “Protest anything you don’t like.” With this being a presidential election year, it was a good way to get words like “election,” “campaign” and “vote” into the vocabulary of my very young children.

There were friendship and family issues in the book that helped balance out the focus on politics. And, in the end, readers are warned against putting their trust in political figures, which is something I agree with.

The book is written in Yasmin’s childish voice, and it’s very sweet and appealing for the younger set. It wasn’t too long and didn’t try to be “too much.” Overall, a good book, but not a standout.

Content warnings: None.

3.4
Snowglobe (Book Review)

Snowglobe (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
Squid Game + The Hunger Games sounds like a thrill-filled funtime

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

Snowglobe

By Soyoung Park
Translated by Joungmin Lee Comfort

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

Another YA dystopia—is it worthy?

I think that, like most YA dystopias, you’ll either love this or hate it.

Years from now, the world is frozen, and everyone works in power plants to provide the population with the electricity required to sustain life. Everyone works for the power plants, except residents of Snowglobe, a ritzy community sheltered from sub-zero temps by a dome. How can you become one of the chosen few who get to live there? By agreeing to act on TV. Your life is recorded and made into a TV show for the world to see.

If you worked day in and day out at a power plant (riding a bicycle to produce energy) and you got the chance to become a Snowglobe actor, would you take it?

That’s basically what happens to Chobahm, our teenage girl protagonist. But the catch? She’s asked to take the place of a megastar who died. She looks nearly identical to an actress named Goh Haeri, who has achieved Taylor Swift-level fame in Snowglobe. If Chobahm agrees, then her family will receive extra compensation, and she may even get a shot at attaining her lifelong dream of getting accepted to Snowglobe’s famed film school to become a director.

It’s a Faustian bargain with all the teenage trappings that make this book appealing to its target audience. It checks all the boxes for what I hoped to see—mystery, twists, and action.

I did feel like the book could’ve been tighter. I really enjoyed it, but the first and second half were a bit disjointed, with characters from the first half who faded into the background to make way for new characters who took the stage in the second half. I listened on audio, which was a lifesaver for name pronunciation, but I confess that I did have a hard time keeping the characters straight.

Overall, this was a solid YA read, and it was interesting to read this genre set in what I assume is a futuristic South Korea, but I’m not sure I’ll come back for book 2.

Content Warnings (with spoilers): Here are some things that you may want to know before handing this to your teen (or reading it yourself). There is discussion of cloning and its moral implications. There are scenes of violence, but nothing gory or over the top. One character is revealed to be in a same-sex relationship with another character, but this isn’t central to the plot and (I think) becomes more central in the sequel. There are some whiffs of romance for the protagonist, Chobahm, but nothing graphic and no sex scenes.

4
The Big Wave (Book Review)

The Big Wave (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
you like morality tales or anything set in Japan

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

The Big Wave

By Pearl S. Buck

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

Lots of potential for discussion here. But not a favorite of mine.

Pearl S. Buck’s novel The Good Earth was a formative reading experience for me in my 20s, so anything with her name on it gets my attention.

This story, however, was…hmm…

I’m not sure exactly what it’s trying to say. What was Buck, a Christian missionary, trying to capture here? I get the sense that she’s not necessarily portraying her own view as a Christian but perhaps giving a snapshot of an alternate cultural viewpoint…

The story (which is very short) takes place in a Japanese seaside village. The fishermen and their families have a deep fear of the ocean, even though it’s what sustains life for them. They know that, at any moment, a storm or tsunami can devesate them and take their lives. They build homes with no ocean-facing windows because they don’t want to…face the fear, I guess? Inland, there’s an active volcano that causes earthquakes. The people know that, between the ocean and the volcano, it’s just a matter of time before disaster strikes. This is true of life, no matter where you live or how safe you may feel.

The characters conclude that living in a dangerous place makes them brave and helps them better appreciate times of peace and happiness. I guess this is true in a general sense. We can see the light because of the darkness kinda thing. I just wish there was a clearer, firmer foundation to build on than what Buck offers here. The ending of the book sees one of the main characters literally building a house on sand. What are we supposed to make of that?

The best element of the story, for me, is when Jiya must decide whether to live with the poor farmers or the rich old gentleman. On the one hand, he can claim a life of safety, plenty, and opportunity. On the other, he can live humbly but also in the midst of uncertainty and possible privation. Most people don’t get to make this choice, but if they did, what would they choose?

3.5
The Big Wave (Book Review)

The Big Wave (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
you want a discussable short story for kids that’s set in Japan

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

The Big Wave

By Pearl S. Buck

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

How do you live between a tsunami and a volcano?

This book is really more of a short story. I can’t remember how this tiny paperback came to me—my LFL? Pearl S. Buck’s novel The Good Earth was a formative reading experience for me in my 20s, so anything with her name on it gets my attention. This story, however, was…hmm…

I’m not sure exactly what it’s trying to say. What was Buck, a Christian missionary, trying to capture here? I get the sense that she’s not necessarily portraying her own view as a Christian but perhaps giving a snapshot of an alternate cultural viewpoint…

The story takes place in a Japanese seaside village. The fishermen and their families have a deep fear of the ocean, even though it’s what sustains life for them. They know that, at any moment, a storm or tsunami can devasate them and take their lives. They build homes with no ocean-facing windows because they don’t want to…face the fear, I guess? Inland, there’s an active volcano that causes earthquakes. The people know that, between the ocean and the volcano, it’s just a matter of time before disaster strikes. This is true of life, no matter where you live or how safe you may feel.

The characters conclude that living in a dangerous place makes them brave and helps them better appreciate times of peace and happiness. I guess this is true in a general sense. We can see the light because of the darkness kinda thing. I just wish there was a clearer, firmer foundation to build on than what Buck offers here. The ending of the book sees one of the main characters literally building a house on sand. What are we supposed to make of that?

The best element of the story, for me, is when Jiya must decide whether to live with the poor farmers or the rich old gentleman. On the one hand, he can claim a life of safety, plenty, and opportunity. On the other, he can live humbly but also in the midst of uncertainty and possible privation. Most people don’t get to make this choice, but if they did, what would they choose?

Lots of potential for discussion here. But not a big favorite.

3.4