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Monday, March 29, 2021

Review: Almond by Won-pyung Sohn #WhereWeReadAsianLit

by Won-pyung Sohn
Translated by: Joosun Lee

Publisher: HarperVia
Publish Date: May 5, 2020
272 Pages
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Translated Lit

This story is, in short, about a monster meeting another monster. 

One of the monsters is me.

Yunjae was born with a brain condition called Alexithymia that makes it hard for him to feel emotions like fear or anger. He does not have friends—the two almond-shaped neurons located deep in his brain have seen to that—but his devoted mother and grandmother aren’t fazed by his condition. Their little home above his mother’s used bookstore is decorated with colorful post-it notes that remind him when to smile, when to say "thank you," and when to laugh. Yunjae grows up content, even happy, with his small family in this quiet, peaceful space.

Then on Christmas Eve—Yunjae’s sixteenth birthday—everything changes. A shocking act of random violence shatters his world, leaving him alone and on his own. Struggling to cope with his loss, Yunjae retreats into silent isolation, until troubled teenager Gon arrives at his school and begins to bully Yunjae. 

Against all odds, tormentor and victim learn they have more in common than they realized. Gon is stumped by Yunjae’s impassive calm, while Yunjae thinks if he gets to know the hotheaded Gon, he might learn how to experience true feelings. Drawn by curiosity, the two strike up a surprising friendship. As Yunjae begins to open his life to new people—including a girl at school—something slowly changes inside him. And when Gon suddenly finds his life in danger, it is Yunjae who will step outside of every comfort zone he has created to perhaps become a most unlikely hero. 

The Emissary meets The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime in this poignant and triumphant story about how love, friendship, and persistence can change a life forever.

My Review:

Within the first couple of pages, I read: "Just standing there with blank eyes.  As always."  I was immediately hooked.  

Yunjae was born with a condition called Alexithmia where he has difficulty feeling emotions such as fear and anger.  He witnesses a tragedy that sets him in a new direction.  Soon he meets Gon.  These two couldn't be more different from each other.  Yunjae gets social cues so he knows how he should act or react.  Gon feels it all and would just like to NOT feel so much one day.  Together, they have an unlikely, but much needed, friendship.

While I always try to read different genres, I notice that I don't read a lot of translated books.  I think mostly because sometimes if it's not working for me I wonder if it's due to the translation or just the book itself.  Almond is just beautifully written and we get an amazing perspective of Yunjae and his emotionless voice.  I do think that the ending was a little too bow-tired for my particular taste.  But I absolutely love that while we may not get to see what the future will end up holding for either of these boys, we do see growth and the pull of some very unexpected emotions. And please, I can never stress it enough, read the author's notes.... and especially the translator's note as well for this one.

As the first pick for my #WhereWeReadAsianLit, I am so happy to see lots of great feedback. Thanks to everyone who joined!


Jessica's Review:

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when picking up ALMOND by Won-pyung Sohn but I was so pleasantly surprised by what story unfolded. Alexithymia is the inability to identify and describe emotions experienced by one’s self or others. One of our main characters, Yunjae is unable to feel or experience emotions like pain or anger.

I had never heard of Alexithymia, so it was really fascinating to see from this character’s perspective. It’s so hard to imagine not experiencing these types of emotions and feelings. So having Yunjae pair up with Gon was a friendship I didn’t know I needed to experience and see flourish.

The writing is beautiful and flows perfectly. The pace stays even and consistent to keep you pulling along – there are never any lulls in the story. I highly recommend reading the author’s note at the end because that just gave the story a lasting impact.

4 stars 

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