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Secondhand World

Secondhand World
Katherine Min

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+.

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4 responses to “Secondhand World

  1. janicu January 6, 2008 at 12:30 am

    I liked this review! Starting a story out with death – sometimes that can turn me off a story, but sometimes it makes it easier when they tell you someone’s going to die and then they talk about their life so that you have more time to get used to the idea when they lead up to the death later. Depends on how the author handles it.
    The cover of the book.. looks like at least 2 people I know.

  2. BookFiendO January 6, 2008 at 10:05 am

    Oooo. I am pleased you like the review!  Yes, I was debating whether I liked the fact that the book started out telling your of the parents’ death or not. But in the end, I think it worked out well. There is cyclical sense to it all. But I do wish she explored the post-death period a bit longer. Like I said, there is a tiny sense of incompletion at the end of the book still. You should read and let me know what you think.
     

  3. Emjay January 6, 2008 at 3:14 pm

    This sounds an interesting book.   I think I will put it in my amazon trolley.  How have you had time to read two books already????    I think I have read two PAGES !!   LOL

  4. BookFiendO January 7, 2008 at 7:59 pm

    I had to get some reading in during the holidays. Sadly, since I’ve gone back to work, I’ve only managed to read about 10 pages in my third book of the year. It might be a while until my next review.

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