Hello, again. I somehow managed to juggle my schoolwork, freelance commissions, and blogging better than I thought. Today’s blog content is for the blog tour hosted by Hear Our Voices for The Forest of Stolen Girls by June Hur. If you haven’t read June’s debut novel, The Silence of Bones, I highly recommend checking that out as well since I adored it.
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends (Macmillan Publishing Group)
Release Date: April 20th, 2021
Genre: YA Historical Mystery
After her father vanishes while investigating the disappearance of 13 young women, a teen returns to her secretive hometown to pick up the trail in this second YA historical mystery from the author of The Silence of Bones.
Hwani’s family has never been the same since she and her younger sister went missing and were later found unconscious in the forest, near a gruesome crime scene. The only thing they remember: Their captor wore a painted-white mask.
To escape the haunting memories of this incident, the family flees their hometown. Years later, Detective Min—Hwani’s father—learns that thirteen girls have recently disappeared under similar circumstances, and so he returns to their hometown to investigate… only to vanish as well.
Determined to find her father and solve the case that tore their family apart, Hwani returns home to pick up the trail. As she digs into the secrets of the small village—and reconnects with her now estranged sister—Hwani comes to realize that the answer lies within her own buried memories of what happened in the forest all those years ago.
After reading The Silence of Bones, I was ready to be blown away by this sophomore novel. But I wasn’t ready for just how great it would be.
Even though this book was almost 400 pages, it certainly didn’t feel like it. The nail-biting level of suspense kept me on the edge of my seat (figuratively, since I read it in bed). There were many twists and turns and red herrings that kept me guessing until the end.
Aside from being suspenseful, the story was intensely creepy. A sense of danger pervades the narrative, lurking behind you, unseen yet palpable. The atmospheric writing had me deep in the dark forest with Hwani and Maewol, terrified that the masked man with a sword would come after me next. Perhaps it wasn’t a good idea to read the book at night. 😱
Beyond its appeal as a mystery novel, the book touches on profound themes regarding family, especially sisterly bonds and the love and hate between fathers and daughters. The relationship between Hwani and Maewol is thorny and complex, overshadowed by trauma, jealously, and years of separation, yet it is undeniably bone-deep. They both hurt and help each other in turn as they join forces to investigate the mystery behind their father’s disappearance.
The themes surrounding fathers and daughters is also explored with nuance. The story stretches that bond to its extremes, probing and testing it through multiple father-daughter pairs: the Min sisters and their loving but flawed father, a disfigured village girl named Gahee and her abusive father Convict Baek, and Village Elder Moon and his daughter Chaewon. The line between loving intentions and harmful consequences makes itself known through these relationships.
As the author notes in the back of the book, the story is based on real events. The book would not be what it is without the context of misogyny. Indeed, the narrative emerges from the shackles and violence imposed on women by Korean patriarchy, exacerbated by the power dynamics between the Ming empire and the Joseon tributary state. Class differences also come to the fore in framing gender and power. But the story isn’t a complete tragedy, nor is victimhood an absolute. The agency of girls and women takes center stage in Hwani and Maewol’s journey, giving hope for resistance and change.
In conclusion, The Forest of Stolen Girls is a gorgeous, gut-wrenching read that will stay with me for a long time. I look forward to reading everything that June Hur delivers in the future.
Stay tuned for a book playlist for this book later.
Trigger/Content Warnings: misogyny, assault, kidnapping, murder, abuse, child abuse, suicide, rape (implied)
About the Author:
June Hur was born in South Korea and raised in Canada, except for the time when she moved back to Korea and attended high school there. Most of her work is inspired by her journey through life as an individual, a dreamer, and a Christian, with all its confusions, doubts, absurdities and magnificence. She studied History and Literature at the University of Toronto. When she’s not writing, she can be found journaling at a coffee shop. She lives in Toronto with her husband and daughter.
Her debut novel THE SILENCE OF BONES (Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan, April 2020) is a murder mystery set in Joseon Dynasty Korea (early 1800s), and also a coming-of-age tale about a girl searching for home. It was recently selected by the American Booksellers Association as one of the top debuts of Winter/Spring 2020 (Indies Introduce).