CW: child abuse, sexual assault, Asian fetishization, disfigurement, infertility, and death
What a book.
Throughout the whole thing, I kept reflecting on how this felt like Jodie Picoult back before she got stale. It was a tightly woven courtroom thriller that kept me guessing until the end. Hell, even when it was revealed what happened, I was shocked and still don’t quite believe it.
The Yoo family (Pak, Young, and Mary) moved to America from Korea and decided to start up a hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) in a small, rather insular town. They treat a number of people with various “problems”. I use quotes because some of them aren’t problems and there’s definitely an underlying discussion of the medical vs. social construction views on disability that I really enjoyed.
One night, during a “dive,” something goes wrong. With people inside of the pressurized chambers, a fire breaks out. It kills some of the people in it and leaves others disfigured. In the end, the police find evidence that Elizabeth — Henry’s mother, a child who died in the fire — set it to kill her son because she’s been abusing him.
But is that really what happened that night?
I really loved that this book dealt with a lot of topics. Child abuse and what makes things child abuse. Do you have to leave a large, physical mark to call it abuse?
What about the medical model of disability? Are we wrong when we say that someone is disabled? I’ve read a lot about this — most notably Brilliant Imperfection: Grappling with Cure by Eli Clare — and I definitely lean more towards the social construction view of disability. But, I loved seeing how characters grappled with this issue.
Then, we have sexual assault and whether it was really a sexual assault. I know I struggled with it when I was labeling my content warnings. I kept switching it up, changing it from sexual assault to dubious consent then back to sexual assault; or wanting to add a caveat to it. In the end, I labeled it as sexual assault because that’s what it was, although it’ll be interesting to see what other people think.
Plus, throughout the novel, it grappled with the Korean culture and how different it is from the American one, the immigrant experience in different generations, the fetishization of Asian people.
I think the thing that I had the hardest time with was that there was so much going on in the book. It had so many hard topics buried in it that came up throughout the book, then there were so many characters that I could never keep them straight, then actually trying to figure out what really happened that night.
It was a lot. And I think that the author did well with juggling it all, but it was way too much for me. A lot of it could have been cut out without changing things. I loved the commentary on these things, but there was too much going on for it to be fully explored.
What my review comes down to, really, is that I’ll definitely be reading whatever Kim publishes next. She impressed me so much with this debut!
Have you read this? What did you think?
What’s a great courtroom thriller that you’ve read and would recommend?