Set in modern day Seoul, the lives of four young women are examined.
Spoiler Free Review:
Content Warnings: abuse, suicide, predatory behavior, mental health, fertility problems, cheating, misogyny
I overall liked this book and I think it definitely dove into some dark topics, but there were definitely a few glaring issues I had with it as well.
This felt less like a novel, with a beginning, middle, and end, and more like a collection of moments from these girls’ lives. There were four POV characters, so each chapter was devoted to their past and current situation. The four characters are:
- Ara, a hairdresser who lost the ability to speak because of an incident in her past and is obsessed with a singer from a K-Pop band
- Kyuri, who has fought her way to the top to work at one of the top room salons in the country
- Miho, a poor art student who was able to study in America with the South Korean elite
- Wonna, a newlywed struggling to get pregnant, despite not knowing how she will be able to afford a child
There is also a fifth character, Sujin, who is pretty prominent, but doesn’t get a POV. All five women live in the same apartment building. Ara and Sujin live down the hall from Kyuri and Miho, while Wonna lives downstairs with her husband. One of my main issues was that Wonna just felt a little too disconnected from the other girls. The rest are “friends”, while Wonna doesn’t really know them, so I think it would have made more sense for Sujin to have a POV. Wonna’s story felt like something that still needed to be told, but maybe not in this book.
I did also think that the POVs didn’t have distinct enough voices. They all had vaguely similar childhoods, to the point where I can’t really distinguish them now.
There was a ton of social commentary in this book. One constant throughout is the pressure of being beautiful. Kyuri spends enormous amounts of time and money on skincare and cosmetic surgery. It is important to her job that she looks beautiful, but that pressure is reinforced by men who visit room salons and will pay more, depending on how beautiful the women are.
Miho is surrounded by extremely rich kids when she is studying in America. While they are friends with her, it is in an almost superficial way. It is clear that they are uncomfortable when Miho’s poorness shows in a way that they can’t ignore, so she does many things in order to make them comfortable.
I think the common ground that a lot of these issues have is that societal norms are so rigid and exact that anyone who falls outside of them is left to struggle. Kyuri is beautiful, but works in a room salon. Miho is talented, but comes from nothing. Wonna gets treated terribly at work for taking maternity leave, even though it is expected of her to have a child.
I felt like the book ended kind of abruptly. There wasn’t any real “plot” necessarily, so nothing really got resolved. I did really enjoy the messages that this book was trying to get across, so I was able to put aside some of my disappointment. It feels a little unfinished and not totally cohesive, but I definitely look forward to what Frances Cha writes next!