Lee Geumyi, Yujin and Yujin (Korean, French 2011)

Yes, I’m exploring yet another South-Korean middle grade novels. Previous books were good, so why not?

Yes, I know, it’s weird, and most probably no one on the blogosphere will have read it and will comment on it. Never mind.

The true questions are: How come my neighborhood kids library stock so many novels of this niche category?

How come these books get published and translated to French?

Are French teenagers more likely to relate to their Korean peers’ ideas? Once again, I don’t know.

“Yujin and Yujin” is more “typically teen” (in my mind) than the previous books I read. The two Yujins are 2 girls who share the same first and last name (while being totally unrelated) and who end up being in the same class in middle school. But they are as different as you can get.

The taller Yujin is an average, outgoing student, preoccupied with grades, boys and music idols, while the shorter Yujin is a straight-A, totally introvert girl. When they meet, something weird happens: the taller Yujin remembers her, while the shorter girl pretends they have never met. On top of sharing the same names, they actually share a secret: while in kindergarten, they both were abused by the school director. But the shorter Yujin’s family has moved, changed neighborhoods and school and denied that anything has happened.

I cringed at this heavy subject used as the back story of a rather conventional teenager revolt plot, but I soon had to acknowledge that the writer was quite sensitively handling it. This early trauma and public scandal resonate in these girls as they enter the dangerous zone of puberty. The reaction of parents around are portrayed realistically and not sugar-coated.

Typically Korean subjects are also very present: high parental pressure for good grades, including going to evening classes that gives you even more homework right until the middle of the night; societal discrimination against girls; and family tensions.

I don’t think this novel has been translated to English, but it would be worth it.

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