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Banned Book Club

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When Kim Hyun Sook started college in 1983 she was ready for her world to open up. After acing her exams and sort-of convincing her traditional mother that it was a good idea for a woman to go to college, she looked forward to soaking up the ideas of Western Literature far from the drudgery she was promised at her family’s restaurant. But literature class would prove to be just the start of a massive turning point, still focused on reading but with life-or-death stakes she never could have imagined.

This was during South Korea's Fifth Republic, a military regime that entrenched its power through censorship, torture, and the murder of protestors. In this charged political climate, with Molotov cocktails flying and fellow students disappearing for hours and returning with bruises, Hyun Sook sought refuge in the comfort of books. When the handsome young editor of the school newspaper invited her to his reading group, she expected to pop into the cafeteria to talk about Moby Dick, Hamlet, and The Scarlet Letter. Instead she found herself hiding in a basement as the youngest member of an underground banned book club. And as Hyun Sook soon discovered, in a totalitarian regime, the delights of discovering great works of illicit literature are quickly overshadowed by fear and violence as the walls close in.

In Banned Book Club, Hyun Sook shares a dramatic true story of political division, fear-mongering, anti-intellectualism, the death of democratic institutions, and the relentless rebellion of reading.

198 pages, Paperback

First published May 19, 2020

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About the author

Kim Hyun Sook

2 books37 followers
Kim Hyun Sook was born in Changwon, South Korea. She became a member of a banned book club in the 1980s while studying English Language and Literature. She has co-written comics for websites including The Nib and Oh Joy Sex Toy and she translated Lady Rainicorn's dialogue for Adventure Time comics. She now runs a new banned book club in Busan, where she lives with her husband and her cat, Dog Baby.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 804 reviews
Profile Image for s.penkevich.
780 reviews5,385 followers
February 14, 2021
Banned Book Club is a story not only a coming of age story about finding your voice, but also about finding the strength in collective voices against oppression. Set in South Korea during the Fifth Dynasty in 1983, the book serves as a memoir of author Kim Hyun Sook’s time in college during a time of intense protests against the government. ‘The ingredients for this book were true stories’, she tells us at the end, but their names and stories have been cut up, amalgamated and expanded upon for privacy and security. This graphic novel, aimed mostly at a YA readership, works as a wonderful introduction into the spirit of revolutionary organizing as well as a primer of South Korean politics that are often overlooked in Western education and is just as enjoyable for adults as well. This is no lighthearted read, as the violence of political struggles and the consequences of speaking out against the State are front and center in this work. Friendships are fractured, people are jailed and beaten, families are threatened and the reader is reminded that freedoms and using your voice is a very precious thing that can literally cost you your life. Fast paced and heavy hitting with a manga-style artwork that works best during the protest scenes to capture all the action, Banned Book Club is fun, insightful and inspiring.

This book arrives during a time when censorship is a hot-button issue. Groups such as the American Library Association have recently promoted events such as Banned Books Week to discuss the importance of access to literature, and other books aimed at youth such as Ban This Book by Alan Gratz have approached the topic to inspire kids to speak out. With Banned Book Club, we approach the topic of political censorship from a much more aggressive and oppressive standpoint under the de facto dictatorship and single party government of Chun Doo-Hwan. The book shows how the general knowledge of South Korean history had been sanitized and spun by the government, keeping people in the dark as means to control them. At the start, Kim Hyun Sook has barely heard of the multiple coups across the country’s history and, through interacting with her new friends, begins to realize that much of the news is spun to fit political convenience and not the truth. While we live in an age in the US where it’s a popular conservative thing to mock people for ‘being woke,’ this book is a good rebuttal reminding them that they are speaking from a place of extreme privilege and the alternative might be to lay down and be run over by totalitarian rule. This book is a good example of how being able to criticize your government is a positive and how freedom of the press is very important.

Most of the book centers on the budding friendships and potential romances of the Banned Book Club and how Kim Hyun Sook grows as a person and intellectual through the collective support and goals. The book goes directly to major issues of police brutality (there is a government police villain that tracks them and brings violence upon them throughout the book), anti-capitalism, feminism, and revolutionary politics. She joins the group through their Folk Dance Team, which becomes a wonderful example of how art can be used to subversively tell revolutionary stories. They smuggle books in Love Poetry book sleeves, write revolutionary poems and essays, publish a student newspaper “exposing” the truth, and distribute anti-government leaflets. Also they protest and punch some police (one member takes certain pride in her ability to throw a punch). While this all sounds fun, the pushback against them and their beliefs is always lurking ready to strike them down. And it does, often.

This book covers the many dangers of being a political activist. There is, of course, the police, but also classmates who work as informants or are pressured into giving up information to protect themselves, not to mention lecherous teachers who would abuse their position of authority and mentorship to coerce young girls into their beds. While much of these issues are pretty broad and general in the book, they are used effectively particularly for the target age range of the book. While some aspects seemed a bit corny, they are the exact sort of thing that I would have found great when I was, say, 16.

Overall, this is a fantastic little graphic novel with a great message on how messy history is. At the end there is a reminder that history and progress is not a straight line. There are many curves and backtracking but the important thing is to keep moving forward. ‘The villains of the past are never really gone,’ she says at the end, set a decade later, but reminds us that organizing and using your voice is the only way to move forward. Progress comes in small steps and she realizes that because they fought in secret, they were able to pave the way for the modern generation to fight in the open. While this book takes a pretty general and stylized approach to politics and organizing, it is meant to inspire and not be a guide for the nuances and details. In that, it definitely succeeds.

Profile Image for MissBecka Gee.
1,444 reviews586 followers
June 22, 2020
The intentions in this historical fiction graphic are impressive.
The illustrations are not as exciting as I wold have liked, but it almost seemed on purpose...
whether it was or not...don't tell me.
Despite this taking place in Korea, the content is highly relevant to North America right now.
Give it a whirl and get down with some Korean revolutionaries.
Thanks to NetGalley & Letter Better Publishing Services for my DRC.
Profile Image for Alexander Peterhans.
Author 2 books164 followers
April 21, 2020
It's 1983 in South Korea, and a brutal militaristic regime wields power. A group of university students hold secret meetings, where they discuss books that are forbidden by the regime and political news that is being suppressed. This means that they have to be careful of the secret service, who are constantly on the lookout for 'communists' and other subversives.

Kim Hyun Sook is a freshman, who becomes a part of the group, first thinking they're a regular book club. She soon finds out how dangerous the club is, but also how important these small acts of defiance are.

So I had very little knowledge of the political situation in South Korea of the last 40 or so years. We only tend to reflect on North Korea, and this book makes clear how that is a mistake.

It's actually quite shocking how close South Korea was to a authoritarian police state. It makes the book a riveting read.

(Received a review copy through Edelweiss)
Profile Image for Romie.
1,061 reviews1,272 followers
September 24, 2019
Now THIS is a graphic memoir I want to put in everybody's hands. It's such an important one! It's important to learn about history, and not just about your own country's. It's important to learn about what happened and what is still going on in the world. This graphic memoir does this so brilliantly. It talks about fighting for democracy, fighting for what is right, fighting every single day because there's always something to work on. The fact that I also absolutely adored the art made this reading experience even better. (4.25)
Profile Image for Alwynne.
558 reviews533 followers
March 25, 2021
Banned Book Club’s based on Kim Hyun Sook’s experiences as a student in South Korea during the early 1980s when the country was controlled by a totalitarian-style, military regime. The text’s co-written by Kim’s husband Ryan Estrada and illustrated by Ko Hyung-Ju whose simple, realist, black-and-white design scheme draws on Manhwa conventions - traditional Korean print comics. Ko's visual style works well with the verbal elements, creating an impression of immediacy and authenticity that adds to the impact of Kim’s story of political awakening, further enhanced by the incorporation of material taken from interviews with fellow activists from the period.

Hyun Sook, the daughter of struggling restaurant owners, scrimps and saves to afford a university education. Once there her contacts unexpectedly lead her to an underground circle of students, their club discusses banned political books – from Marx, Chomsky and Che Guevara to de Beauvoir and Betty Friedan - and participates in South Korea’s growing student opposition to their repressive government. Hyun Sook’s involvement is further complicated by her growing attraction to another club member Hoon. The club’s activities are perilous, there are people within the student body spying on the government’s behalf and anyone even suspected of subversive activities risks being detained and brutally tortured - the penalties for women are particularly harsh. Although the way the story’s told could be more effective, it feels a little rushed in places and overly-didactic in others, it's still a fairly compelling depiction of a significant chapter in South Korean history, as well a moving, accessible, tribute to the ordinary students who risked their lives to bring about change.
Profile Image for Rod Brown.
5,128 reviews171 followers
June 10, 2020
The art and storytelling is clunky, but the importance of the topic carries the day for me. I do love me a triumph over censorship story.

I have reservations about the veracity of this book as the marketing seems to present it as a memoir. I dislike that the back cover says that this is a "dramatic true story" while the text buried at the back of the book says the writers took "ingredients" of true stories and "sliced, diced, and blended them into one narrative starring a handful of amalgamated characters at a fictional university." And I found it odd that one of the real people mentioned in the book is called "Noh Moo-hyun," when his expressed (and mostly respected) preference was that his name be written in English as "Roh Moo-hyun."
Profile Image for Juan Naranjo.
Author 2 books2,249 followers
November 14, 2021
«El club de los libros prohibidos» es un emocionantísimo cómic que constituye una carta de amor a la literatura, al asociacionismo y al poder de la educación como práctica liberadora. Nos cuenta la historia Hyun Sook, una joven surcoreana de clase humilde que ingresa en la universidad a principios de los 80 y que, además de la educación que iba buscando, encuentra en la institución a un grupo de personas que le ayudan a conocer la realidad dictatorial de la política de su país.

La protagonista, al principio temerosa, es poco a poco seducida por un grupo de estudiantes combativos, políticamente activos y socialmente comprometidos que se reúnen para redactar un periódico universitario, informarse sobre la situación de la sociedad y cultivarse con libros prohibidos por el gobierno. Pero las cosas empiezan a ponerse feas cuando comienzan las detenciones, los interrogatorios y las redadas.

Ha sido precioso acompañar en su lucha política a esta «guerrilla urbana en pantalones de campana», pero este no es el único mérito de este precioso cómic. La autora consigue hacer un recorrido de los últimos cuarenta años de la historia de Corea del Sur de una manera didáctica e interesante y, aunque a menudo cuenta episodios realmente oscuros, consigue hacerlo desde una perspectiva llena de ternura, ilusión y hasta humor. Este libro me ha parecido una pequeña joya que nos recuerda cosas importantísimas que no deberíamos olvidar en una época en la que ciertos fantasmas vuelven a salir de sus tumbas.
Profile Image for Jen .
2,501 reviews27 followers
May 14, 2020
Hi, I'm an ignorant American who was raised in the American public school system. I'm not dumb, and I try to learn on my own via reading books, magazine articles, web-based news (with a grain of salt) and watching various videos/documentaries online, but there are HUGE gaping holes in what I know. This graphic novel exposed one of those areas of lack of knowledge to me.

I had NO IDEA that South Korea wasn't magically a democracy after the Korean War. I had no clue that there was a dictatorship and that the people of South Korea had to fight and revolt for democracy. I just assumed they always were democratic after the war.

You know what I think would be a good high school/college class? One about democracy around the world and how the people had to fight for it, and the places where they are still fighting for it. This book would be required reading for that class.

Honestly, I think it should be required reading for all Americans in the school system. When I went to school at least, we didn't get a lot about other countries, at least, not that I remember. To be fair, that was a while ago. Also to be fair, I don't recall most of what I learned back then. Or at least I can't differentiate it from what I just "know" and don't know where I picked it up. Maybe from school, maybe from a book, who knows?

So, back to the book. It was amazing and terrifying and I can't imagine living in fear of the Government and having to fight for basic rights like voting and reading what you want to read. Yes, America has it's issues, but I'm not afraid I'm going to be dragged to prison by the police, beaten to give up my friends and locked up without due process because I was seen reading 1984 or the Handmaid's Tale.

America isn't perfect and it is always possible to go in the reverse re: human rights, but I think there are a lot of people who are extra vigilant about making sure we don't lose our rights, so we haven't back-slid to dystopia, yet.

This book is a good way to keep us awake and aware and not take our rights for granted. Yes, they got violent. I'm not pro-violence at all, but I am not judging what they did to get the freedoms they deserved as human beings. I think they were immensely brave and they did things I don't know I would be able to do if I was in that situation.

So thank you Kim Hyun Sook, for sharing this with the world. It needed to be said and shared and I am glad that I was able to read this book. This is one I will be recommending to everyone. 5, life isn't always how we think it is and sometimes we need to fight for it to be the way it should be, stars.

My thanks to NetGalley and Letter Better Publishing Services/Iron Circus Comics for an eARC copy of this book to read and review.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Camille.
83 reviews11 followers
May 28, 2020
Based on a true story, Banned Book Club tells of Kim Hyun Sook, a South Korean woman who finds herself joining an underground banned book club in the 1980's. During this time, the political climate in South Korea consisted of a corrupt government that banned Western literature and a military regime that obtained power through censoring, torturing and murdering protesters that were involved in consuming such content.

We see Sook come into college with the mindset that she's only there to study, learn and read. Soon enough, she finds out that it's not all that simple as she's exposed to the realities of the environment she's around. I enjoyed seeing her growth. In the beginning, she starts off closed off and blinded to the ideologies of the protesters and members of the BBC but as she uncovers and finds out the truth, she understands the power of having a voice, taking action and being part of something revolutionary.

The book brings up a great discussion about censorship-- Why do people ban books? Is it purely because of the content? Do they see danger in the authors that create the content? Or is it because there's a possibility that they see themselves in the "villains" or characters of the story and they're too ashamed to admit it?

I loved the ending message. Progress isn't just a straight shot. It's filled with twists and turns but in the end, that doesn't mean we should stop fighting for what's right.

My only gripe with this book is that it moved too fast for me, in a way that felt as if I was missing information. There were so many characters thrown at once that it felt hard for me to distinguish between each of them at times. It's not easy to condense history and real-life events into a certain format, especially in graphic novel form so it's understandable.

Although marketed as YA, I would definitely recommend this book for adults who enjoy reading nonfiction graphic novel memoirs as well. I think this book would also be great reading material for Banned Book Week.

Thank you to Netgalley and Letter Better Publishing Services for providing me an e-ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Elizabeth☮ .
1,509 reviews11 followers
March 20, 2021
A great way to learn about growing up in South Korea during a tumultuous time. Hyun Sook matriculates to her local university and hopes to have her world open up to new knowledge. The knowledge she obtains isn't just the kind you find in books. She learns to look closer at what is happening in the machinations of the government. She surrounds herself with young adults eager to change their country and open their minds to new ideas.

I wanted more detail, but it is a great beginning to this part of history.
Profile Image for Sarah Marie.
1,795 reviews226 followers
July 30, 2020
Banned Book Club by Kim Hyun Sook, Ko Hyung-Ju, & Ryan Estrada

4.75 stars

This is a fictionalized account of Kim Hyun Sook’s time in college during the strict and oppressive rule of South Korea’s Fifth Republic. During this time in 1983, riots were common at the universities and protests occurred to fight against the censorship and dictatorship that was occurring. This graphic novel is based on real events, but blended together to protect the identity of many real people who fought for things to change in South Korea. This graphic novel was so good! What an important novel to read amidst the protests in America. The story has so much to unpack and walk through. There is fear and the desire to rise up, the importance of literature being uncensored and not banned, what protests mean, the generational importance and metamorphosis of protests, family and values. So many wonderful themes and the friendships and simple scenes of slice of life living reminded me of real college students. This is a great graphic novel to give to high school students or freshman in college. I wrote so many papers on the topic of banned books in college, but I had never heard of this group of these protests. I’ve heard about the banning, but I didn’t know the impact of the people of South Korea protesting and speaking up.

Whimsical Writing Scale: 5

Character Scale: 5

Plotastic Scale: 5

Art Scale: 4

Cover Thoughts: I love the different color schemes.

Thank you, Netgalley and Iron Circus Comics, for providing me with a copy of this graphic novel in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Kate.
154 reviews21 followers
February 4, 2020
Thanks to Iron Circus Comic and Edelweiss for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

I loved this comic so much I swallowed it in one sitting. I'm always moved when authors take history and bring it to a level that people can easily read and understand. This story follows Hyun Sook as she leaves for college against her parents wishes. While at college, she gets sucked into a secret banned book club led by a group of student protestors.

I appreciated everything about this book. The story reflects on South Korean struggles that the world is wholly unaware of. Each of the characters are real people whose actions lead to a change in the regime of S. Korea. I loved reading about them. They were truly inspiring and at the end I couldn't help but be moved by their actions.

The comic is fasted paced, action packed and the art is stunning. This book needs to be used in schools to help students understand how fortunate they are. This was a 10/10 for me.
Profile Image for Oriana.
Author 2 books3,261 followers
March 1, 2021
Very pleased that Jugs & Capes read our very first Iron Circus book, and that it was this one. It's a really believable picture of youth radicalization under a repressive regime—one of the smart ladies in book club called it "a guidbook for tiny radicals." Yes!

It also deals with really heavy subject matter—police brutality, sexual harassment and assault, authoritarianism and its discontents—with due seriousness, though at times it felt a bit flattening, as it gives nearly the same dramatic weight to more minor domestic and romantic dramas. But the artistic style is filled with movement and nuance that keeps the story gripping and compelling throughout.

Although this is undoubtedly a story about overcoming adversity, the thing that really struck me is how cyclical these periods of authoritarianism and triumph feel. This is a point made clearly in the book itself, which emphasizes that South Koreans use Shakespeare and ancient Korean dramatists to illuminate class struggles from centuries ago because they're not allowed to talk about what's going on right now. But to me, that's not really all that hopeful—it just demonstrates that these are struggles basically as old as time, and they don't actually get better, not for any lasting period. It's just a constant back and forth between repression and revolution and repression again, we're always fighting the same fucking fights everywhere in the world and all throughout history, and the best we can really hope for is to make things incrementally better for a decade or so before they swing right back to darkness and chaos. Fuuuuck.

Oh also here is a rad interview Kim and Ryan did about the process of writing this book—in a comic, naturally!
Profile Image for Rachel Hyland.
Author 15 books19 followers
October 16, 2019
I am ashamed to say I knew next to nothing about South Korean politics before reading this most excellent graphic novel -- just that once the nation was under the thumb of China, and that the US waged a war there in the 1950s, fighting against the communist regime in the north.

It did not go well.

But this account of the naive Hyun Sook, newly at university in 1983 and learning about her own nation's political travails for the first time, changed all of that. In just 200 or so short, informative pages, I experienced the highs and lows of discovery with her, as she and her new friends read books then-banned in their nation -- books like The Feminine Mystique and The Motorcycle Diaries, presumably disapproved of for their revolutionary concepts and/or authors -- risking imprisonment if caught.

Completely fascinating, this is an important story about a tumultuous time, and is not only educational but is also ultimately uplifting. And kind of romantic, too.
Profile Image for Scottsdale Public Library.
3,177 reviews198 followers
September 29, 2020
Kim Hyun Sook is a freshman at college. Much to her excitement, her love of reading gets her invited to a book club. But it turns out this club reads books that have been banned by her government(early 80s South Korea). Even though that makes her very nervous, she stays in the group. She ends up making friends in the club, and soon starts attending student protests with them.
Banned Book Club is a portrait of Korea in the 1980s, being young and realizing that not everything you have been told is true. I enjoyed how it goes back and forth between normal college life and the violence of an oppressive regime
Hyung-Ju's dynamic art is the star of the show here. It's adorable at times, but gets scratchy and scary when violence is depicted. -- Mike M.
Banned & Challenged Books | Advocacy, Legislation & Issues
Profile Image for Tory.
1,229 reviews28 followers
July 11, 2019
DANG I had no idea this shizz was going on in South Korea! I thought they were the SANE Korea! So, very historically enlightening, but I apparently do not like manga style. Gave it a shot and it bothered me the whole time. BUT I learned a lot!
Profile Image for Rich in Color.
488 reviews86 followers
April 6, 2020
Review copy: Digital ARC via Edelweiss

As long as there have been books, there have been people trying to control them. In this graphic novel memoir, we’re able to see this in play during the 80s in South Korea. College students continued to read banned materials even when the consequences for being caught were quite grim.

The story opens with a family argument. Hyun Sook’s mother does not understand why the college students, and her daughter specifically, feel that things need to be different. She characterizes protesting as complaining. The public in general has accepted that things are as they are and while not content, they are willing to keep the status quo in return for peace. Initially Hyun Sook really does seem to want to be at college to learn and has no interest in activism, resistance, or protest. She is alarmed by the defiance her peers are showing, but that soon changes.

This is a timely book with activism and dissent as a central theme. Young people take learning into their own hands. When a government entity is telling you not to read something, it begs the questions, why? What does the government have to fear? And if they fear these books and words, they must be powerful.

Hyun Sook’s story is compelling and hard to look away from so it reads really quickly. This would be an excellent book to pair with the 2017 movie A Taxi Driver which features the Gwangju incident mentioned in this story. I had recently watched the movie and it helped to have that context since Korean history is not taught very thoroughly (meaning not at all) in U.S. schools. For readers unfamiliar with this time in South Korea’s history, some of the details may be a little confusing, but even then, readers will still be able to follow the storyline.

Recommendation: Banned Book Club has appeal for many, many readers. As a graphic novel memoir dealing with activism it’s sure to intrigue many. As a book celebrating the revolutionary act of reading, I’m guessing many book lovers will want to dive in. History fans will likely want to grab it too. And of course, those who keep asking for college aged characters may find this one to their liking. Get it soon!
Profile Image for Ryan.
4,403 reviews22 followers
September 10, 2019
What a lovely way to experience history. This book takes multiple real life stories to give the reader a fictionalized “true” version of the protests in 1983 lead by college students. Most of it is the story of the author, but for privacy reason has changed many names and consolidated some stories.

It all starts with the government banning certain literature. Particularly Western literature. Kim wants to read these stories. She wants to study literature. But her mother is not happy. She should be working and finding a husband. If anyone is going to go to school it should be her brother. But with help from dad, Kim goes to classes, and learns about things outside her little home world. While she loves to read she never realized that people could be thrown in jail for what they read. And for what they right. No one pressures her to join any resistance movement, they just say “hey why don’t you read what those in power don’t want us to read”. It’s eye opening. And while trying to stay neutral, she actually ends up joining protests, and helping lead more people to this literature that the government says is bad for people.

I have to give snaps to the author for the ending. We never get a clear picture of what all happen. We follow Kim though her getting involved, and then jump to 2017 where she reunites with her friends in modern protest for their land and their government. The reader gets snippets of what the characters when through, like jail time, being teachers, evening staying involved in politics to make their world a better place.

Overall I really enjoyed this story and learned quite a bit. There are parts that are a bit confusing, but I think that is from taking a long and varied history and converting it to graphic novel form. I think this book isn’t only interesting to read, but to discuss. I think it should appear on banned book lists, even if it itself has not been banned. It opens up a wider discussion on why people and governments police what others read.

#BBRC #AuthenticVoice
#ReaderHarder #journalism
Profile Image for Maia.
Author 27 books2,073 followers
March 21, 2021
This is a wonderful graphic novel, an engaging look at the student-lead activism in South Korean in the early 1980s. Kim Hyun Sook is a first year University student studying literature. She is shocked to discover that campus is regularly overtaken by riots in which police beat and tear-gas students who protest President Chun, an unelected military general who controlled the country from 1981-1987. At first, she doesn't understand what motivates the protests. Then she joins a book club which reads exclusively book which have been banned by the government- The Motorcycle Diaries by Che Guevara, Counter-Revolutionary Violence: Bloodbaths in Fact and Propaganda by Noam Chomsky, Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire, A Song That Cannot Be Erased by Kim Jeong-Hwan, For the Independent Peaceful Reunification of the County by Kim Il Sung. Hyun Sook's eyes are opened, and she begins working with a group of students who organize via the school newspaper and the masked dance troupe. It's very dangerous and multiple members are arrested and tortured by the police but the book doesn't lose it's hopeful tone that protest is effective and change is possible. It's a needed message for our current times. The book is based on one of the co-author's real life experiences, though the story has been condensed down from reality.
Profile Image for trufflebooks.
254 reviews100 followers
June 20, 2020
5/5 ⭐ Thank you so much to Netgalley and the publisher for letting me read the advance copy of this book in exchange for a review.

I...just loved this graphic novel so much. I read it all in one sitting and I learnt so much more than I expected to. I don't personally know much about Korean history despite learning the language at the moment but this was so educational and entertaining and I loved all the characters. The fact that this is a memoir as well makes it so much more impactful and I feel like everybody, especially right now should read this book to get a perspective on protesting and fighting for a better future.
Profile Image for Michelle.
651 reviews184 followers
June 18, 2020
I received this book through NetGalley last week Thursday. I tried to read it with the Virtual Silent Book Club but our power went out. (knocked down power lines - no worries there.) I only mention this because I wanted - no needed - to finish this book so badly that I read it through the early morning hours with a head lamp. This book is actually a composite biography/memoir about the military regime in South Korea. Which is kind of funny because typically when we in the United States hear the words Korea and political regime in the same sentence, we think about North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un. South Korea is not really on our media's radar. So we do not hear of the political unrest or human rights violations in South Korea on our TV. Most of us also never learned about South Korea in the classroom. So Banned Book Club was an enlightening endeavor for me. Choosing to teach about this time in history through a graphic novel was a nice way to represent the people and their struggle without being too overwrought. That does not lessen the value of the story however; my physical copy is laden with flags and highlights.

One aspect of the book that I liked was that it shows throughout history how books and art were used as a form of protest. The author not only declares books as political, but goes further to address the reasons why those in power censor books. The reason is not just because of possible messages of dissent, but rather that they can see themselves as the villains of these novels. Their fear that others may recognize this is what drives them to ban books. They want to control their image, to control the political narrative: "Chun needed a distraction. A crisis. An imminent threat for people to fear. Something only HE could "Protect us" from." With this referral to the fabricated Gwangju invasion Banned Book Club hits rather close to home:"How can Chun trick everyone? How do people not see what's happening? -- "He doesn't care if we believe him or not. He created such a divide between the people who believe his lies and those who don't that the country is too torn apart to come together and properly oppose him."

In Banned Book Club the main character is a young woman setting off to college. Her mother opposes her going. She complains about the cost and tells her that money would be better spent on her brother. She also fears that her daughter will get caught up in the student led protests. Her father wants her to have this experience. It is an opportunity he didn't have. He also wants her to have the chance to make her own decisions. For her part, Hyun Sook just wants to go to college to learn. In her mind learning is book knowledge not life experience. When she arrives at the college it seems as if everybody is trying to make her decisions for her. It takes Hyun Sook quite a while to realize this. It is not until the end of the book where she say to herself You know what? You decided what group I was going to join. And you decided whether we were going to be in a relationship. No one asked me what I wanted. When do I get to make the decisions about my life?

I have read a few reviews where they faulted the author for Hyun Sook being sorted pushed around and led from one decision to the other. But just remembering from when I was younger it was hard when I first left home for college. It was the first time in my life that I was responsible for myself. I was still trying to figure out who I was while being bombarded with all of these new sets of ideas and meeting different types of people that I would have never encountered if I stayed in my home town. That time in one's life is one of discovery and experimentation. It takes a while for you to settle down into who you truly are and what you will become as an adult member of society. So I understand why it takes time for Hyun Sook to come into her own truth.

Although Banned Book Club is billed as YA I would say that it definitely holds something for an adult audience. It reminds me of other powerful graphic novels like Incognegro by Mat Johnson and Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi.

Special thanks to NetGalley, Iron Circus Comics and the authors for access to this book.
Profile Image for Gabriel Noel.
278 reviews9 followers
January 16, 2020
ARC given by NetGalley for Honest Review

Banned Book Club is definitely a story of our time while being told about the past. In the political climate of today's world this is an incredible look back to a time of censorship and fascism in Korea. Hyun Sook is invited to join a banned book club and while apprehensive at first she realizes over time that being apathetic about politics can be more detrimental than not. Her and her friends use her colleges tools and clubs as means to secretly defy the government while hoping not to get caught.

This story discusses things like corporal punishment (we see Officer Ok beating boys for information), rape (also committed by Officers), and women's rights.

While this story went by quickly in my opinion, it's refreshing to see people continuing to write about corrupt government as an act of defiance against them. Hyun Sook delivers a beautiful monologue at the end, telling her younger self not to give up hope and to continue to fight. That there will always be corruption and progress isn't always linear but it will always get better. If there is one thing you can take away from this story it would be ...read banned books! Can't wait for the pub date to come so I can add this to my personal and professional collection!
Profile Image for Julia.
1,287 reviews23 followers
December 14, 2019
I started college in 1982, one year before Kim Hyun Sook. Our college experiences were totally different. On the other side of the world, she was working with fellow students to effect change in her country. Her story is amazing. The narrative was interesting and fast paced. I finished the book in a little over an hour. There is so much I never knew about the political situation in South Korea. This book really opened my eyes to a world so different from my own. It is a must-read, and I highly recommend it.

I received a free review copy from Edelweiss in exchange for my honest opinion.
Profile Image for Judith (xstitchinglibrarian).
916 reviews44 followers
June 1, 2020
This graphic novel was AMAZING and a book that everyone should read. The book is timely and relevant. I saw so many similarities between what was happening in Korean in 1983, currently around the world and what is happening in America today: a narcissist leader creating his own laws, dividing the country, attacking and discrediting the media and journalists, creating fake news, censoring people and media, a scapegoating and creating a common "enemy" to detract people.

Highly, highly recommended.
Profile Image for Elizabeth A.
1,801 reviews107 followers
September 18, 2020
What reader can resist a book with a title like that?

This YA graphic memoir is set "during South Korea's Fifth Republic, a military regime that entrenched its power through censorship, torture, and the murder of protesters."

The author overrides he mother's wishes and attends college to study Western Lit. Things do not go quite as she planned, and she's soon swept along with a protest group.

The illustration style is a tad too sketchy for my taste, and the narrative thrust is often uneven, but I appreciated getting to read a personal account of this movement in Korea.
Profile Image for Diz.
1,535 reviews86 followers
August 25, 2020
This graphic novel presents university life during the democracy protests in 1980s South Korea. A group of university students go through hardships, arrest, and torture in order to fight for what they believe. This story is inspiring. To see what the students go through to stand up for what they believe make you reflect on how much you are willing to do to do the same. Well worth reading.
Profile Image for Lauren .
1,700 reviews2,299 followers
March 11, 2021
▫️BANNED BOOK CLUB by Kim Hyun Sook and Ryan Estrada, art by Ko Hyung-Jo, 2020.

🏫 1983. Small university in South Korea.

In this graphic memoir manhwa, Kim Hyun Sook retraces her early days as a college freshman, and her activist awakening via literature.

Declaring an English literature major at university, she hears about a book club that meets at a fellow student's apartment. She is eager to get a "leg up" in her studies and meet some people. She attends the event to find a very different sort of club... Reading banned books that could land the readers and the entire group in jail - Korean dissidents, European philosophers, American feminists... The list of banned literature is long, and the club wants to read it all.

This early 1980s time period was one of "political strife, fear-mongering, and the death of democratic institutions" in South Korea, under the Fifth Republic, a military totalitarian regime. Teachers and students informing on each other, police brutality, and violent protests.

✒️ Kim notes that this is a graphic memoir with true details about herself and her family and the events described, while names of her book club comrades were changed for privacy.

The "relentless rebellion of reading" tagline is right on.
Profile Image for Paula.
404 reviews240 followers
November 26, 2021
Esta es una novela gráfica autobiográfica en la que Kim Hyun Sook habla concretamente del año 1983 en Corea del Sur, cuando Hyun Sook empezó la universidad.

Estamos en los años de la dictadura de Chun Doo-hwan (que falleció el pasado 23 de noviembre), una época de grandes rebeliones, manifestaciones estudiantiles, censura, acercamientos a EEUU (estamos en plena Guerra Fría). En las universidades se respira un aire de muchísima tensión, los alumnos que acudían a clase eran sutilmente manipulados por los profesores para contrarrestar las protestas: “Vosotros sí habéis venido a aprovechar las oportunidades que se os dan, no las desperdiciéis”.

De entrada me encantan los padres apoyando a la hija que va a la universidad. El padre es encantador (el libro está dedicado a su memoria), su madre no tanto, porque en la uni el ambiente es agresivo y como además ella no tuvo la oportunidad de estudiar, está asustada por su hija.

El dibujo es muy tierno, en blanco y negro y a la manera occidental. La forma como está narrada la historia y lo bonito que es el dibujo en contraposición a lo duro de lo que está contando me recordó un poco a “Persépolis” de Marjane Satrapi. De hecho es imposible no pensar en esa obra durante la lectura de “El club de los libros prohibidos”.

Hyun Sook no entiende nada por lo que decide concentrarse en los estudios hasta que un compañero le hace comprender que incluso aprender es un acto político, y la invita a un club de lectura. Lo que no le dicen es que se trata de un club clandestino y que sus miembros leen libros prohibidos por el régimen. Ahí es donde esta obra se convierte tanto en un retrato sociopolítico de la historia reciente de Corea como en metaliteratura, porque todo va relacionado. En medio de todo una joven estudiante de filología inglesa un poco pardilla que sabe tanto como el lector (presumiblemente), a través de ella y con ella iremos aprendiendo.

Una obra de 10 que debería leerse en los colegios, porque ayuda a comprender los movimientos sociales y por qué a veces hay cosas más importantes que uno mismo.
Profile Image for Briar's Reviews.
1,788 reviews501 followers
June 18, 2020
Yay for another graphic novel to add to my list! One of my 2020 goals was increasing the amount of graphic novels I've read (and have on my shelves) and this book seemed perfect!

Our lead, Kim, goes off to college to learn bright and new things. Suddenly, she's found herself apart of a book club but not just any book club... it reads banned books, which is quite the scandal in South Korea during the 80s. This political true story is an incredible read and I think it's in the perfect format to tell this story.

Reasons why this book is awesome:
1. The cover is wickedly cool and grabbed my attention.
2. Cartoon-y art style that gave it a fun personality.
3. Banned Book Club = super intriguing premise AND ITS A LEGIT THING SO EVEN COOLER.
4. Non-fiction graphic novels/mangas = THE BOMB. Not literally, the cool 80/90s term everybody always used and suddenly didn't use anymore.
5. I always love a good memoir. Graphic novel form is just way cooler.
6. I learned a lot about South Korea from this book and doing a little research about what was going on at the time. BONUS FOR LEARNING!

Overall, this is a truly marvellous story in a great artistic form. I will definitely want to pick up more books by Kim Hyun Sook in the future.

Four out of five stars.

Thank you to NetGalley, Iron Circus Comics and Letter Better Publishing Services for providing me a free copy of this book in exchange of an honest review.
Profile Image for Janis Kay.
450 reviews28 followers
May 14, 2020
This was thrilling. I know almost nothing about South Korean history, save for the general stuff, and this has me itching to learn more about this crucial time period in their history. I generally new that student protests were commonplace back then, but I never knew that the South Korea that we know had a very uphill battle towards the democracy that they have now. Kim Hyun Sook is just your average university student when she gets swept up in a tidal force that helped shape her country into what it is now. Seriously, everyone should read this.

The ending was very inspiring in that the message for everyone is that there is no end -being politically active/involved (no matter how much or little) needs to be a constant and not a phase. "Every vote counts."

For Librarians & Teachers: Readers can definitely draw correlations to other countries who had similar political atmospheres during and prior to the Cold War era. This can be used as a text in a politics, history, socio-cultural, or even a literature class. There is so much that can be drawn from this. Absolutely fascinating and I'm eager to see more! Definitely recommend for purchase.

**I received a copy of this book from Edelweiss+ for an honest review. I'm a Teen/Young Adult librarian in a public library and much of this review was taken from the one I submitted to Edelweiss.**
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