The Forest of Stolen Girls / June Hur / Book Review

The Forest of Stolen Girls

Blurb

It's been a year since Hwani saw her father, the famous Detective Min. It's been a year, and they've officially declared him dead. But Hwani hasn't given up on her father yet. Disguised as a young man, Hwani escapes from the claustrophobic household of her aunt and sneaks across the sea to the island of her childhood, the place where her father disappeared. Nowon Village hasn't been her home since the Forest Incident five years ago, when Hwani and her baby sister Maewol got lost in the woods only to be found hours later by the body of a dead girl, babbling about a man in a white mask. Now, thirteen more girls have gone missing in the woods. By the time Hwani arrives, the trail is cold, and the villagers colder--especially her estranged younger sister Maewol, left behind on the island when Hwani and her father left for the mainland. Maewol may know more than she thinks, though she isn't interested in sharing insights with Hwani. But when one of the missing girls is found dead near the village, the sisters find themselves more reliant on each other than ever before, whatever their pasts may hold. 


Pros

  • Atmospheric Worldbuilding: From chilling fog to winding villages, June Hur's worldbuilding is atmospheric. Powerful shaman women, free divers by the seaside, forests and cliffs: everything about this book is perfectly woven together to create an atmosphere of unsettling beauty and unease. Crime thrillers and mystery books are not usually so evocative. There is a trend in the genre toward short, terse descriptions, but here, Hur's beautiful detailing only adds to the mystery itself. 
  • Tantalizing Mystery: There are so few YA mysteries. It is great to have a mystery in YA at all, and this one is wonderfully done. It has a strong hook from the start. The detective work throughout is well-executed. Its sweeping worldbuilding helps bring readers along for the ride. Add to this the evocative setting and the POC cast, and this book stands out. The historical element on top of everything just adds another layer to the good, detective fun. This book was full of sleuthing and high-stakes tension, just as a mystery should be. 
  • Unique Genre Experience: Historical fiction in the YA sphere is relatively rare. Mystery in the YA sphere is also relatively rare. Mixing those two genres makes this something unique. It is a genre mash-up like no other, and Hur manages to execute all the different genre conventions so well. I am not sure I've ever read a book set in historic Korea, and I know I haven't read a YA book set in Korea. That, too, adds to the experience: something new, something different, and something YA definitely needs. 

Cons

  • Detached Voice: The aloof detective is a genre convention, unfortunately. That is, the detective-narrator comes in and observes. Sure, sometimes the investigation can get personal. Sure, the detective cares about the case, but the detective is still a detached, objective voice. That is no different here with Hwani's narration. While this is fine--and in fact standard in a lot of mystery--it's not something I particularly enjoy myself. 
  • Slow Read: This book is full of deep worldbuilding and beautifully crafted sentences. But these features take time to digest, and so reading this book is ultimately a slow wade. It is immersive but time-consuming. While I think it was worth it in the end, it is by no means a light or quick read. It has depth and merit, but it may be too much for some readers to continue to digest. 
  • All Women: Usually I love a cast of strong women. In fact, I love it here. There are women detectives, shamans, informants, servants. Having a cast of almost-all women is just fine, but this book had no real male characters involved in it at all. There were some conveniently-placed men to help or hinder the plot as necessary, but the primary and secondary cast didn't include any major roles for men. It took half of the book before a significant male character did more than play a plot-important role, and even then, that character was largely absent from the ensuing drama. If I noticed this significant lack of important men, others may have a problem with it. 

Rating

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
8/10

Those who loved the girl-of-many-hats main character in Eloise Jarvis McGraw's Mara, Daughter of the Nile will like this cunning new lead. Anyone who appreciated the strong female lead in a world of dangerous men from Avi's The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle will love the life-and-death stakes for these two sisters. 

Details

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Date: April 20, 2021
Series: N/A
Buy It HERE

Note: I was provided with an ARC by the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions here are my own.

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