Three tales of folk and fantasy

By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly

http://nwasianweekly.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/32_16/shelf_forgotten.jpgForgotten Country
By Catherine Chung
Riverhead Books, 2012

Ever since the Japanese occupation in Korea, each generation in Janie’s family has lost a daughter. Because of this, Janie is charged, at a very young age, to protect and keep her sister Hannah safe.

When Hannah suddenly cuts all ties from the family, Janie must find her sister and work to bring her back into the fold. But things are not that simple. Over the years, Janie has heard stories and vague references to certain events in her family’s history. Twenty years later, she still doesn’t know the reason why her family moved to America so abruptly. And as she works to find Hannah, Janie slowly begins to learn more about her family and their secrets.

Throughout “Forgotten Country,” Chung weaves in Korean folktales and stories, which parallel Janie’s journey throughout the book.

Janie’s feelings toward Hannah are interesting. While she always feels protective of her younger sister, Janie also feels resentment as the burden of her sister’s wellbeing grows heavier and heavier. When Hannah leaves, Janie’s feelings only become more conflicted.

Chung does a great job of depicting the complexities and complications that come with family.

She shows that it is very possible to love someone, while resenting them at the same time. She also explores loyalty and freedom through Janie’s slight jealousy of Hannah, who was able to leave when she was not.

http://nwasianweekly.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/32_16/shelf_circle.jpgCircle of Cranes
By Annette LeBox
Dial, 2012

At 13, Sunyin is a poor orphan girl in a rural Chinese village. When a human smuggler appears promising riches and good fortune, Sunyin is the one they choose to send to Gold Mountain — America. With the burden of an entire village on her shoulders, the young girl sets off for the States. Unfortunately, she soon learns that she and everyone back home have been duped as she ends up in a sweatshop in New York’s Chinatown working for pennies she never sees, as the woman in charge continually delays their paychecks.

While it may seem that all hope is lost, Sunyin learns that she is part of an ancient sisterhood, the Crane Women Clan. This initially gives her hope as she occasionally receives help from her crane sisters, but she also learns that they are depending on her to save their queen from the Gray World and save them from extinction.

“Cranes” is a combination of reality and fairy tale with Sunyin going between the real world and the world of the Crane Women Clan.

LeBox does a great job of creating well-rounded and complex secondary characters such as Jade, Wing, and Kwan-Sook, the three girls Sunyin meets on the boat to New York. Initially, they just seem to be outspoken, spoiled, and petty, respectively, but as the story continues, we see why they are the way they are and see that each girl has her own strengths.

http://nwasianweekly.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/32_16/shelf_scarlet.jpgScarlet
By Marissa Meyer
Feiwel and Friends, 2013

Cinder, the cyborg mechanic from New Beijing, returns in the second installment of The Lunar Chronicles. In “Scarlet,” the story picks up right where the first left off, with Cinder in prison trying to escape and reunite with Dr. Erland, the only other individual on Earth who knows her true identity — an identity Cinder had discovered only 24 hours earlier.

In addition to watching Cinder’s escape from prison and her life as a fugitive, we meet Scarlet, a young girl from a small village in France. Scarlet’s grandmother is missing and the only person who has any information to help her is a street fighter named Wolf. Although the story begins with elements familiar to the tale of Little Red Riding Hood, Meyer uses this only as a jumping off point for her story as the two characters work together to solve a mystery. When they meet Cinder, they team up to unravel another mystery and work to stop Lunar Queen Levana from making Prince Kai — now emperor of the Commonwealth — her prisoner and taking over Earth.

For anyone who grew up on fairy tales, “Scarlet” is a treat as it brings together versions of Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood into one great adventure filled with mystery, intrigue, and danger.

In addition to the main characters, Meyer includes  old characters from the first book and introduces new characters. Although they are secondary, each has a developed personality of their own.

While “Cinder,” the first book in this series, was mainly from the title character’s point of view, “Scarlet” is told from the perspective of a number of characters, which helps flesh out the story.

Just as with “Cinder,” the ending of “Scarlet” will have readers eagerly waiting for the next installment to see what happens to our heroes and heroines in their quest to defeat Queen Levana. (end)

Samantha Pak can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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