Friday, April 7, 2017

Shelter by Jung Yun (Review)

Release date: March 15th, 2016
Author links: Goodreads - Twitter - Website
Publisher: Picador

Description (from Goodreads):

Why should a man care for his parents when they failed to take care of him as a child?

Kyung Cho is a young father burdened by a house he can’t afford. For years, he and his wife, Gillian, have lived beyond their means. Now their debts and bad decisions are catching up with them, and Kyung is anxious for his family’s future.

A few miles away, his parents, Jin and Mae, live in the town’s most exclusive neighborhood, surrounded by the material comforts that Kyung desires for his wife and son. Growing up, they gave him every possible advantage—private tutors, expensive hobbies—but they never showed him kindness. Kyung can hardly bear to see them now, much less ask for their help. Yet when an act of violence leaves Jin and Mae unable to live on their own, the dynamic suddenly changes, and he’s compelled to take them in. For the first time in years, the Chos find themselves living under the same roof. Tensions quickly mount as Kyung’s proximity to his parents forces old feelings of guilt and anger to the surface, along with a terrible and persistent question: how can he ever be a good husband, father, and son when he never knew affection as a child?

As Shelter veers swiftly toward its startling conclusion, Jung Yun leads us through dark and violent territory, where, unexpectedly, the Chos discover hope. Shelter is a masterfully crafted debut novel that asks what it means to provide for one's family and, in answer, delivers a story as riveting as it is profound.

While Shelter, Jung Yun's debut novel, is not the kind of book I would usually pick up, seeing it mentioned on multiple "best of 2016 reads" list both on the blogsphere and BookTube made me excited about the concept of reading it when a spotted a copy at my local library. 

Much like Yun herself, the main character of Shelter - Kyung - moved from South Korea to North America when he was a child. While the novel focuses mostly on Kyung as an adult, little glimpses of his childhood are provided to the reader, which makes it easier to understand the feelings he has towards his parents. 
"Thirty-six years old, and he's still behaving like a child, trying so hard to please someone whose standards have always been too high."
Shelter is an interesting blend of a mystery story and a family drama. It is also a story about cultural differences and expectations, and about the things we learn from our parents -- often things we might want to forget about, but just can't find a way to do so. The mystery aspect of the story, the process of figuring out what exactly happened to Kyung's parents, is well paced and executed in a way that made me want to keep turning the pages. 

One of the most interesting aspects that I found myself thinking about while reading this novel is how the characters are described and how Yun writes about the things they think about and the things they do. I found almost all of the principal characters of the novel extremely unlikable. Yet, they are written about in a way that makes them seem so damn real that it was difficult for me not to feel something for them. 
"It's hard to be happy when you don't know what it's supposed to look like."
The idea of whether it is possible for us to really ever escape our roots is brought up on Shelter mainly through the relationships Kyung has with his parents. The influence of the Korean culture mixed up with the kind of upbringing he has had within the American society has created certain kind of expectations he has always felt like he hasn't been able to fulfill. Thus, he has always felt like he hasn't been respected by his parents. As his distant relationship between his parents forcibly becomes closer, Kyung is made to question both his upbringing and his current state in life.
"You know what it's like spending your entire life trying to make up for something you can't take back?"
The novel also interestingly touches upon ideas about living behind a facade, whether that is by pretending to have the kind of life you are expected to have, or by living in a way that you cannot really afford in reality. I feel like during this day and age especially the financial aspects introduced in the novel are something a lot of people can relate with, and I find the way Yun discusses such problems well executed.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading Shelter and will definitely be looking forward to checking out what Jung Yun writes next.


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