3.5 stars.. EDIT 5/24 Shadow Child begins with a pair of estranged twins, one in Hawaii and one in New York City. Kei, who lives in Hawaii, journeys acr3.5 stars.. EDIT 5/24 Shadow Child begins with a pair of estranged twins, one in Hawaii and one in New York City. Kei, who lives in Hawaii, journeys across the country to visit her sister, Hana, for an unknown reason, which fills Hana with dread. Yet when Hana gets home, ready to confront Kei, she finds her sister has been attacked, and left unconscious in the bathtub. As Hana cares for her ailing sister, she begins to dredge up their past in an attempt to figure out what brought Kei back into her life. The book switches between Hana and Kei, both in the present and past, which can be slightly confusing on its own. However, interspersed with Hana and Kei's stories is that of their mother, who is referred to by a variety of names, making reading even more confusing.
As I mentioned in my first update, I felt that there were two different stories going on in this book. The story of Hana and Kei's mother, who I will call Lillie, felt alienated from their story and of a different genre (more classical historical fiction). While Lillie's history and journey were the most compelling part of the book for me, I felt that it didn't fit into the focus of the book, which was Hana and Kei's own reckoning with their past (in my point of view). I think Lillie's story could have been fleshed out more and made into its own novel, and be taken out of this one.
Hana and Kei's narration bored me at first, but as the story went on, and they grew older (and thus the writing more understandable) I found myself more interested in what was happening. The balance between present and past narration, mostly in Hana's chapters, was lacking. It was as if the present sections were colored grey, but the sections about her past were filled with color, and drew my interest more. I think this has to due with Hana's characterization, and how she kind of wilted after she left Hawaii, which I think is kind of a cop-out and possibly even out of character for the younger Hana. I am on the fence about Hana, and whether I think she aged realistically... Something for me to think about more, I suppose.
While Lillie's story, and family history in general, play into Hana and Kei's stories and how they deal with what happened to them, I think this book is more about their relationship as sisters. I wish the story had been trimmed more to focus more intensely on that relationship, and maybe even given them some time as adults to discuss their past together (which does not happen in the book at all!! I really wanted this...). I enjoyed pieces of this novel, but together, it was a bit disjointed. While I think the cover captures that duality nicely, the book doesn't quite pull itself together.
Thank you to Grand Central Publishing for an ARC of this book! -- 5/22: I feel like there were two stories here that didn’t quite belong in the same book. Will write more later!...more
The Incendiaries tells the stories of Will and Phoebe, their ill-fated romance, and the religious cult that4.5 stars. Will update later w review! :) -
The Incendiaries tells the stories of Will and Phoebe, their ill-fated romance, and the religious cult that begins to consume their relationship. Will and Phoebe are both college students at a prestigious university in a small New England town, and are soon drawn together during their freshman year. However, both are hiding important things about their past that will come out in ways they could not have imagined. After a religious cult appears in town, with a leader who claims a personal connection to Phoebe, both get sucked in and must confront their own ideas of religion, loss and love. What follows is a multi-faceted account of the downfall of Will and Phoebe's relationship and Will's attempts to save both Phoebe and himself.
I admit, I was drawn to this novel because of the mention of a cult, but The Incendiaries turned out to be so much more. The characterization and writing created by Kwon amazed me and kept me hooked. Will and Phoebe are both deep, individual and unique, yet completely relatable. All of their actions seemed true, like something I would experience myself or have known one of my friends to do. It was almost as if I was reading a true account of something that happened in the past (though the ending makes me glad it was all fictitious). Kwon created such a believable cast of characters, inhabiting a very real world, that I couldn't help but be sucked in to the story.
I really enjoyed the personal histories Kwon created for Will and Phoebe. Their stories and personal views gave me a lot to think about as I read this book, and went through their own mental turmoil along with them. This book focuses heavily on religion and loss, and how the two shape each other. While I am not religious, I was still able to connect to these conflicts, as both Phoebe and Will go through periods of faith and disbelief. I thought a lot about how Will and Phoebe's unique interactions with faith, and compared them to my own. Within The Incendiaries I found space to contemplate my own history, even while I kept up with a increasingly fast-paced plot.
Through Phoebe, who is a Korean-American, Kwon brings up themes of family, and culture, which I found very compelling. In Phoebe's transformation, I saw many of my Korean-American friends who have been lucky enough to learn about Korean culture throughout their lives, and are proud of it today. Kwon's writing showed me a more varied and unique Korean-American experience, and I'm so glad to have learned from it.
I found Kwon's writing style an almost perfect balance of spare, graceful and expressive. Kwon knew where to embellish and where to take a step back, letting the reader take over some of the imagination. There are some truly beautiful lines in this book, too many for me to quote (and there is no finished book for me to quote from at the moment, alas), so I will just encourage you all to go out and read a few for yourself!
Thank you to Riverhead Books and Edelweiss for an electronic ARC!...more