Review: b, Book, and Me

Title: b, Book, and Me
Author: Kim Sagwa
Translator: Sunhee Jeong
Publisher: Two Lines Press
Pages: 134
Review copy: Provided by publisher
On shelves now

Summary: Best friends b and Rang are all each other have. Their parents are absent, their teachers avert their eyes when they walk by. Everyone else in town acts like they live in Seoul even though it’s painfully obvious they don’t. When Rang begins to be bullied horribly by the boys in baseball hats, b fends them off. But one day Rang unintentionally tells the whole class about b’s dying sister and how her family is poor, and each of them finds herself desperately alone. The only place they can reclaim themselves, and perhaps each other, is beyond the part of town where lunatics live—the End.

In a piercing, heartbreaking, and astonishingly honest voice, Kim Sagwa’s b, Book, and Me walks the precipice between youth and adulthood, reminding us how perilous the edge can be.

Review: This is a most unusual book. There are many contradictions beginning with the physical book itself. The weight is light though the content is not. The cover for the English version also has slightly battered scissors about to slice into a pretty little flower. This leads to the interesting aspects of the text. Things can be moving along in a safe and somewhat boring way and yet danger is lurking and pops out suddenly without warning. And while this is focused on teens, adulthood is often centered. The first quote is the narrator speaking about adulthood and how depressing it is to think about being an adult.

A face as stiff as a boulder, stiff with boredom–
that’s the face of an adult.

Adults don’t think about the ocean
even when they watch it.

The book opens at the beach. The waves and the wind of the first scenes really hint at the many pushes and pulls on the teens throughout the story. The youth have some agency, but they are also dragged and tossed about by outside forces many times over. Rang finds life in her city both absurd and boring. Everyone is just floating along getting older or dying. They are also spending a lot of time pretending and being awkward.

In some ways, all of these experiences are fairly typical of the teen years. This book is not told in a typical way though. The story is disjointed and the bits and pieces do not always fit together neatly like a puzzle. Some scenes are surreal and it feels like we are moving from one dream sequence to another with some of them turning out to be nightmares. The book is full of twists and turns and is at times unsettling, but these are youths who are not living a sitcom style lives.

Readers are in the heads of the young people and this is not a comfortable place to be. Things are messy, unpredictable, frightening, and slightly bizarre. It is not a book designed for people looking for a light and airy bit of happiness.

Recommendation: We don’t often see translated works in YA so I was excited to see this one. Get it soon if you are interested in reading a surreal and uniquely structured story about young people coming-of-age. Fans of More Than This by Patrick Ness might enjoy this one. If you like your stories to be straightforward or to be problem and solution oriented, this would definitely be a change of pace.

Extra: Interview