January 5, 2008
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My second book of the year is Katherine Min's Secondhand World.
The book opens with Isa in the hospital, having just spent days there after the fire that killed her parents. Immediately, I was intruiged to find out what happened.
The book is a thoughtful affair, filled with well-drawn characters. Isa's mom is a beautiful Korean woman, but who at times struggles with finding happiness in her life. Isa's father is a rigid science professor, but you find that there is a deeply-feeling man behind it all. Isa is a child who struggles to find her place, both in America and in her own home, where she feels half alive after the death of her brother.
The book deals with some of the issues an Asian child of immigrants might feel – Isa's being teased by her classmates, her mother wanting her to get surgery so that she'll have double lid, her father introducing her to Korean boys so she will marry a Korean. In response, Isa lashes out by being an American and dating a white albino boy.
But through it all, there is a sense that Isa is just a child who doesn't realize that there is more to it all. She doesn't see the struggles her parents go through, some of which are the same as her own – their struggles to be loved and to be happy. She doesn't see that there are levels of happiness to be found, and that it's not all or nothing.
The book, beautifully writte, was a quick, lovely read. But in the end, I'm left with a sense of incompletion. The hope that Isa is going forward, having taken a step toward adulthood, is there but not as strong as I would have hoped. I give it a B+.