Book Review: Almond by Won-pyung Sohn

Almond: A Novel: Sohn, Won-pyung, Lee, Sandy Joosun: 9780062961372: Books

Title: Almond

Author: Won-pyung Sohn

Genre: YA Realistic Fiction

Number of Pages: 272

Rating: B-

Recommended?: Yes

I was really enjoying this book up until the ending, when it sort of fell apart.

The main character is a Korean teenager (Yunjae) who has Alexithymia, a condition that makes him unable experience emotions like other people. Yunjae is being raised by his mom and his grandmother, and his mom puts a lot of focus on teaching him ‘normal’ social behavior. When his life is torn apart by a tragic act of violence, he’s left alone to figure out what to do with his mom’s used book store.

The book focuses on the evolving relationship between Yunjae and Gon, a violent and angry boy who has grown up in the system. Even though Gon bullies Yonjae at first and beats him up, they start to form an unusual bond and support each other through increasingly difficult circumstances. I’d never read a book about Alexithymia before, so that was really interesting. I don’t know how accurate it was because I don’t know anything about this condition, but Yunjae was a compelling protagonist and the book was fast-paced and kept my attention throughout.

I wasn’t crazy about Gon’s character- his constant thuggish foul-mouthed ranting felt over-the-top and I had a lot of trouble sympathizing with him even though the book obviously wanted me to. He almost beat Yonjae to death at the beginning and there’s another scene where he dissects a live butterfly in order to get an emotional reaction from him, but at the end Yonjae insists Gon is a ‘good person’ and the book portrays him as merely a troubled victim rather than dangerous or sociopathic.

The ‘real’ bad guys of this book are cartoonish and one-dimensional, and it had one of those endings where everything just falls miraculously in place and the main character’s transformation is both poorly explained and implausible. Most of the book was so dark and the ending felt like a cop-out to me, I actually feel like it should have been darker. I think this author definitely has potential (this was her first novel) but I was I ultimately found this book to be a little bit disappointing.

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