Thoughts on FOLKLORN

Howdy, howdy! How is everyone doing? Got my second Pfizer shot last week and had a few days of being beyond tired, plus some other minor side effects that really only lasted the night after the shot. I’m fine now. And I’m still breaking in my new computer. But enough about that stuff! It’s the last Wednesday of the month, which means it’s book review time. This month, I decided to request something a little different. It’s a strange mixture of ghost story and fairy tale and some kind of literary fiction. Folklorn by Angela Mi Young Hur was released yesterday (the 27th) from Erewhon Books. As usual, I must thank the publisher and NetGalley for allowing me access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get to it!

Pretty cover.

Folklorn follows Elsa Park, a particle physicist, as she runs into an old friend in the most unlikely of places: Antarctica. The problem? Her old friend is imaginary. When the friend follows her to Sweden, then back to America, Elsa both fears for her sanity and relishes in the familiar comfort and safety her childhood friend provides. Elsa must fight for her place in the world, overcome family issues, and decipher the riddle-like fairy tales her mother left for her. Otherwise, she risks losing herself completely.

The plot of this story feels secondary to the character development, which gives it a very different vibe compared to more traditional genre stories. Yes, there’s an imaginary friend pushing Elsa to complete quests leading to a big reveal, but the monsters and obstacles are all too human. And the real payoff is Elsa’s realizations about her mother and father and brother, but mostly herself. Her own transformation is the best thing about this book, though the interspersed fairy tales are a close second to me.

Everyone keeps transforming in this book.

Speaking of character development, Elsa isn’t the only one who grows throughout this story, but let’s start with her. We see her transform from a closed off, almost bitter person into someone who can work through their issues and open themselves a bit. She isn’t great at it yet, but she’s chosen to make the effort. Her father turns from the monster of her youth into a pitiful old man. Her brother goes from a knight to a manipulative jerk to a normal, struggling human being. Oskar is never really a prince, but he helps Elsa during her struggles, and finds out that he’s allowed to become a different person than he was in his youth. The only person who doesn’t get a chance to evolve in real time is Elsa’s mother, but even she morphs into something new in Elsa’s mind.

A big portion of this book deals with cultural identity and finding a balance between where you come from versus where you end up. It can be a little difficult to read at times, especially if you’re sensitive to race issues. But I ended up feeling like I learned some things from the book. There’s the whole aspect of immigrating to the US after the Korean war and how Elsa’s parents survived both the war and the move and found ways to both fit in and stand out in their new community. There’s also the racism Elsa and her brother faced as children (and still face) and the expectations placed on them, plus the ingrained anger between Koreans and Japanese. And there’s the racism Elsa and Oskar face in Sweden, despite Oskar being raised there. And Oskar’s entire story arc of being an adopted child. It’s about all of these things, but it’s not preachy or anything like that. It’s just people doing the best they can.

Even if we have to unlearn some stuff first.

The writing was interesting. The flow isn’t as smooth as I tend to prefer. The rhythm feels jerky, like it’s trying to trip you up as you read. This works surprisingly well for this book. It mimics Elsa’s unstable emotions. It’s weird, but not altogether unpleasant.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed Folklorn. The combination of genres and the general growth of the characters made this an interesting read. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for more work by Angela Mi Young Hur.

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Overall, I gave it 4 out of 5 stars. If you enjoy fairy tales and well-rounded characters, it’s definitely worth picking up. Even if you’re just looking for something different, check it out.

Thoughts On THE IMMORTALISTS

Hello, hello!  We’ve reached the final Wednesday in February, so you know what that means.  It’s book review time!  Instead of grabbing an advanced reader copy of something, I decided to scroll through Amazon’s suggestions for me and pick a recent release.  This time, I went with The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin.  It was released on January 9th by G. P. Putnam’s Sons and has received fairly high praise from what I’ve seen.  I try not to look at reviews until I’ve formed my initial opinions, so I picked it up solely based on the cover and the blurb.  Let’s get on with the review.

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I really like the tree, but there’s no tree in the story unless you look at it as a family tree or the tree of life or whatever.

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin follows the Gold siblings on their journeys through life.  What’s so special about them?  Well, it all starts when they go to a seer who takes them into her apartment one by one and tells them the date of their deaths.  After that, the book is divided into four sections (one for each sibling) that reveals how they choose to live in spite of or because of having this information.

We start off with Simon, the youngest, who drops out of high school and moves to San Francisco in the late ’70s with his sister Klara, the only family member who knows he’s gay.  He leaves behind a life where he’s expected to take over the family business and take care of his mother after his father’s death, a life he knows will make him miserable.  He chooses to live the life he wants.  And despite the way he dies, he’s happy at the end.

From there, things get progressively more depressing.  Klara has always been the oddball of the family, wanting to be a magician and living in a world in her head where anything is possible, even overcoming death by dying.  Daniel let’s his rage fester until it drives him to hunt down the seer as someone to blame for all of the death he’s had to deal with.  And Varya spends so much time trying not to die that she forgets to live.

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A good summary of my thoughts as I read this book.

All in all, I really enjoyed the story and the characters.  My only complaints with the book come from more of a writerly point of view than a readerly one.  For instance, there was a ton of telling in this book.  Instead of showing me the places that were important to the characters, it was as if the author wanted to cram in as many place names as possible.  As someone who isn’t from New York or California, many of the places were unfamiliar to me and felt like filler.  Instead of telling me every single club Simon went to or Klara performed at, it would’ve been nice to get a more in-depth view of those two characters.  Their arcs felt really rushed whereas Daniel’s and Varya’s felt dragged out.

Another thing I noticed was that the story seemed to randomly change between present and past tense.  It didn’t detract from the story, but it was something I noticed.  I’d go back to try to figure out why the shifts occurred and, a lot of the time, I’d find no real reason for it.  Couple that with random changes in character points of view (Mom taking over a scene in Klara’s section, the niece taking over part of Varya’s section, etc.), and it made for some awkward reading moments.

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Me trying to figure out the tense and POV.

Ultimately, I enjoyed the book and am happy I bought it.  It’s a quick read.  It only took me about six days to finish it (I’m a super slow reader).  Despite my issues with it, I thought it was a nice reading experience.

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Overall, I’d give it 4 out of 5 stars.  If you’re into slice of life stories or literary fiction with a hint of magical realism, I’d definitely recommend picking it up.