The Mermaid of Jeju by Sumi Hahn

“The half moon disappeared behind a cloud, casting the scene into darkness. The silence between the boy and girl expanded. It filled with memories of promises made, words that the world had broken.”

3/5 stars.
ebook, 300 pages.
Read from March 25, 2021 to March 31, 2021.

I’ve always been fascinated by the women on Jeju Island that, for generations, have been deep-sea diving to feed their families and community. This amazing group of divers are known as haenyeo.

“The ocean sucked each diver down greedily. But the women were prepared for battle. They swiped their knives at the fingers of the sea grass that clutched at them. They used picks to pry away shells clinging to underwater rocks. They worked the waters, humming the chants of their forebearing mothers, who had explored the deep before them.”

Set in the mid-1940s, Korea is undergoing massive change at the end of WWII with the forced withdrawal of Japanese that have occupied Korea for decades. Junja is a young woman who has recently joined the ranks of haenyeo after surviving the rite of passage from a treacherous dive. Junja, who has never left her village, convinces her mother that she is old enough and responsible enough to take the annual delivery to the mountains. During this trip, she meets a young boy named Suwol who ends up rescuing her from a dangerous situation on the road. Shook by the encounter on the road, she is equally as smitten with Suwol. Unfortunately, the quiet village where Junja lives is not immune to the political changes affecting her country with the massive upheaval left with the withdrawal of the Japanese. Nationalists now contend with Communists and the US troops have taken the place of the Japanese. When Junja returns home, she finds her mother dead. It was claimed that she drowned and was battered at sea but the real story of her death is much more harrowing. Junja is devastated. As she drowns in her grief, her siblings are sent away to live with their estranged father while she remains at home with her grandmother. Junja’s world will never be the same and she must make a choice and learn to get through the storm of changes. 

This book started strongly and captivated me with its gorgeous writing and heartbreaking outcomes. The story spans over a few decades, as it begins with where Junja ends up later in life and how her story comes full circle in the end. The rich depictions of the haenyeo and their life in this small sea village are beautiful and visceral while the plot also highlights important parts of Korean heritage and history. 

“Here is a secret: Long long time ago, when I was a girl, I was a mermaid, too.” 

The last half of the book felt less cohesive than the first causing my interest to wane near the end of the novel. It’s still a beautiful story with great characters that paint a picture of a mythical, turbulent and resilient Korea. Historical-fiction lovers will enjoy Junja’s story as well as anyone interested in post-war history or coming of age stories.

Almost American Girl by Robin Ha

Growing up in the 90s was hard enough but imagine coming of age in a new country that you didn’t want to move to in the first place, with a language you don’t understand…

4/5 stars.
ebook, 228 pages.
Read on January 21, 2021.

Recommended by a friend, this was a comforting read to have amidst another wave of COVID.

Robin Ha was born in Seoul, South Korea as an only child. While her father was briefly in the picture for part of her early childhood, Robin’s mother soon finds herself as a single parent, which, with the conservative views of 1990s Korea, didn’t bode well for either of them. Almost America Girl is a memoir that begins with Robin’s early life in Korea, the difficulties socially and financially that she and her mother faced. Then when Robin’s mother remarries they take a vacation trip to the United States to visit her new extended family, however, this trip abruptly becomes permanent. Robin feels immensely betrayed by her mother with this sudden and intrusive change of home that she had no say in. She is cut off from her former home and is not even able to get to say goodbye to her friends. Barely knowing a word of English, Robin details the struggles and triumphs she experienced as a youth in a new country, with a new language, a new family, and the reflection and rebuilding of relationships and trust that comes with time.

Robin’s artwork is clean, visually appealing, and easy to read while also capturing the moods and feelings of each scene and emotion the author was looking to create. The audacity of the move that Robin had to live with is one that is hard to sit with. While her mother did what she had to for her daughter, I can’t fathom how difficult it must have been to have your whole life turned upside down in that way. One of the redeeming factors of this story is that her mother does enrol her in a drawing class and it is the first place she finds some belonging in her new surroundings which ultimately leads to Robin’s art career and creation of this book. Robin is also able to reflect on the differences between the two cultures she grew up in as she revisits Korea as a young adult.

While Robin’s story of change is not unique in that many people are forced to sometimes make dramatic moves and face similar issues of culture and language, Robin’s story details the difficulties of such an isolating experience for those that have never had to face such an ordeal, and places the reader within her shoes, highlighting why stories like Robin’s need to be told. It also highlights the resilience that it creates in overcoming such challenges.

I would highly recommend this book to teens, anyone struggling with feeling different, or for any graphic novelist enthusiast. Further, I feel that this book would be a perfect read to have within a high school curriculum as it helps to build empathy and understanding for anyone that has ever been perceived as different.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

“We live in a world where we don’t see the ramifications of what we do to others because we don’t live with them…If we could see one another’s pain and empathize with one another, it would never be worth it to us to commit the crimes in the first place.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 322 pages.
Read January 5, 2021 to January 7, 2021.

I don’t think I’ve really talked about this awesome new book club I’m apart of. It’s a meet-in-person club with people who actually read the book, all while drinking copious amounts of alcohol with engaging and amazing discussions. Every. Single. Month. I chose The Vegetarian for my read in May and it was epic.


It’s a book lover’s dream and I’m so happy I found it. Born a Crime was another book club read and unlike the last one this book was an unexpected pleasure.

Confession: I have never watched The Daily Show and only knew about Trevor Noah in passing. It wasn’t until I came across this book that I even knew he was from South Africa.

Born a Crime is Trevor Noah’s memoir and testament to his childhood and his country, South Africa, and especially his mother. Trevor Noah is ‘coloured’ and was born during the time of apartheid meaning that he was actually born a crime. He legally wasn’t allowed to exist. His mother is black and his father is white and relations between the two were not allowed, among many of the rules that oppressed the black population of South Africa at the time. The story describes how Noah grew up, how his mom raised him alone, and how he learned and worked within the regimented system that existed in South Africa. Trevor’s story is highly entertaining and engaging while also drawing attention to the intense racial issues that still plague South Africa today. Trevor’s story is also a testament to his mother and everything that she did for him in raising him. If you’ve read the first chapter of this book you also know it involves being thrown out of a moving vehicle to save him. Just one example of how funny, interesting, and captivating Trevor’s story is.

“My mom did what school didn’t. She taught me how to think.”

Trevor’s story isn’t about his miraculous rise to fame, it’s about his country, his mother, and is a coming of age story for a kid growing up in a difficult situation. Trevor is humble and while he gives some details about his rise to fame he takes a reflective stance about what his new situation means to him and others.

“The first thing I learned about having money was that it gives you choices. People don’t want to be rich. They want to be able to choose. The richer you are, the more choices you have. That is the freedom of money.”

Considering I didn’t even know much about Trevor Noah prior to reading this book I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this book and just how humorous it is. A good comedian can make light of serious situations and issues while drawing your attention to these sensitive topics without offensive, Trevor has mastered this.

“If you’re Native American and you pray to the wolves, you’re a savage. If you’re African and you pray to your ancestors, you’re a primitive. But when white people pray to a guy who turns water into wine, well, that’s just common sense.”

Whether you love memoirs or not, I feel that there is something in this book for everyone while also providing a unique insight into difficult part of South African history.