Summary: Isadora Myung Hee Sohn—Isa—has just spent ninety-five days in a pediatric burn unit in Albany, New York, recovering from the fire that burned her house and killed her parents. Moving back in time, Secondhand World casts a devastating spell, revealing the circumstances that led to the fire. Growing up the daughter of Korean-born parents, Isa is bullied by American classmates and barely noticed at home. Seeking the company of another outsider, Isa falls in love with Hero, an albino boy. But what starts out as a small teenage rebellion sets in motion a series of events and revelations Isa never could have foreseen. - anchor books
I received SECONDHAND WORLD by Katherine Min in the mail a few weeks ago, and I thought it looked like a book that I would really enjoy. I read a few reviews about the book and they were very, very good. In fact, the book was even a finalist for the PEN/Bingham Prize. After reading the book in less than 24 hours, I'd have to say that it was amazing!
It sounds funny to be talking about the cover after completing such a beautiful piece of fiction, but the cover is just perfect. I loved the girl and the flowers and it drew me in right away. After reading the book, I appreciated the cover even more. I don't want to give too much away, but I found the young girl and her hair extremely symbolic.
This book starts out a little mysterious because Isa is recovering in the burn unit of a hospital after a fire that kills both her parents. The reader isn't actually sure how the fire started, and the book goes back in time to reveal the events that led to the fire. The book is really more of a coming-of-age story about Isa, a girl with Korean parents, who doesn't feel that she fits in anywhere (especially her home and school.)
I was deeply touched by Isa's story -- she had more heartbreak in her young life than many people do in a lifetime. I loved seeing how her character developed and matured throughout the book. Isa, with all of her flaws and fears, was such a "real" character to me. I have a feeling that she will remain in my thoughts for quite awhile even after I've finished the book.
Ms. Min is an incredibly gifted writer! I know I'm not going to do justice to her writing style, but her prose is almost lyrical. She made me understand Isa's insecurities and feel her pain. I also found that there is a great deal of symbolism in this book. Ms. Min also did an amazing job of weaving with the themes throughout the story.
Trust me on this one -- this is a perfect book club selection! There are lots of discussion questions available for this book, but I'm sure your group could even think of a few more. I also found some ideas for suggested reading if you enjoyed this book.