Everything Belongs to Us

1486670300183

 

Thank You to Random House Publishing Group for providing me with an advanced copy of Yoojin Grace Wuertz’s novel, Everything Belongs to Us, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT – Set in Seoul, South Korea during the late 70’s, Everything Belongs to Us, is the story of two childhood friends from vastly different economic backgrounds. Jisun, the daughter of a successful business tycoon, is from a privileged family, and lives in a secluded mountainside mansion. Namin lives in a poor village, in a small house without running water, and her parents own a food truck, working sixteen hour days. The girls meet when Namin’s impressive test scores admit her to an elite middle school.

Fast forward to college, both women are attending South Korea’s most prestigious university. Namin’s goal is to become a doctor and her family puts all of their money and energy towards her success, seeing her as their ticket out of their hard life. Jisun’s father would like to groom her to take over his company, but she would rather disavow her wealthy upbringing. Instead, Jisun becomes involved in an activist movement, risking not only embarrassment to her family, but jail. A series of circumstances sets a course that will show each woman, that their situations are tenuous and that desire isn’t always enough.

LIKE– Wow. Just wow. Everything Belongs to Us is a dazzling debut novel that gripped me from the start and didn’t let go. I absolutely could not put it down, and as a consequence, I stayed up far past my bedtime to finish reading it. Wuertz’s strong voice, combined with sympathetic characters and a intriguing plot, kept me glued.

What surprised me the most, was how current the story felt. Admittedly, I know very little about Korea’s history during the 1970’s. However, with the exception of the factory protests (which for all I know could also be happening now), I kept forgetting that this story was set decades ago. I think it’s because the idea of college students focusing on power, social climbing and ambition, transcends decades or cultures. The idea of a lower-class family putting all of their dreams towards their child who could raise their status, is something that still happens; same as a child from a wealthy family who might want to test out a different life from the one in which she was raised. These are themes that transcend.

Power is a key theme of Everything Belongs to Us. The most gut-wrenching use of this theme, comes from Namin, when she learns that her younger brother, who has cerebral-palsy, has been sent away from Seoul, to live with their grandparents in the county. The problem is, the family is ashamed, and does not speak of Namin’s younger brother. She fears that he is dead, until as teenagers, Jisun suggests that Namin make a surprise trip to the countryside, to see if her brother is still alive. He is alive and knowing that her elderly grandparents will not be able to care for him much longer, Namin feels an even stronger pressure to finish school, and have a job where she will have the resources to help him. There is a beautiful scene where she takes him in his wheelchair to the river and as they cool their feet in the water, they dream of the fantasy home that they will one day have. Namin dreams of being wealthy, but not so much for herself, but for the power that it would give her to provide for her family. It’s a desperate and non-negotiable need for her.

In college, the girls meet Sunam, a boy from a middle-class background, who like the girls, is trying to find his place in the world. Sunam becomes Namin’s boyfriend, but their relationship declines when she becomes too busy with school and family obligations. Jisun, who is broken-hearted over an American missionary, turns her attentions to Sunam, beginning an affair with Namin’s boyfriend. Unbeknownst to both girls, Sunam is harboring a secret that would destroy both of his relationships. Wuertz’s plot is full of moral dilemmas and impossible situations. It’s suspenseful and kept me guessing until the very end.

DISLIKE– Not a single thing. Everything Belongs to Us is a fabulous debut.

RECOMMEND– Yes! Everything Belongs to Us is set in the 1970’s, but is fresh and modern. Wuertz is a masterful storyteller and I can’t wait to read her follow-up to this magnificent debut. Also, be sure to check out her author website, where she shares pictures of her family, who were inspiration for the characters in Everything Belongs to Us.

Year of No Clutter

1485664986726

Thank You to Sourcebooks for providing me with an advanced copy of Eve O. Schaub’s memoir, Year of No Clutter, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT– Having previously written a book where her family eliminated added sugar for a year, Schaub is back, with a challenge to give herself a year to master the clutter in her home. It’s more than just clutter, Schaub has one room in particular, that has been dubbed the “Hell Room”, which has turned into something out of an episode of Hoarders. Can Schaub and her family fix the “Hell Room” and get to the root of their clutter problem? In modern society, is it possible to live clutter-free?

LIKE – My mom was a highly organized person, who did not keep more than was necessary, however, after she died, I found some unusual examples of hoarding. She was a single woman, who didn’t cook, yet she had about thirty boxes of Saran wrap in a pantry. In the pantry, I found stock-piles of tin foil, AA batteries, and unopened boxes of playing cards. No clue why she amassed such quantities of these specific items. I wish I could have asked her! None of this of course was a huge deal, but it was weird. Schaub mentions dealing with death, and wondering what your possessions will say about you, when you’re gone. Thinking about this topic fascinates and worries me.

Year of No Clutter does not contain photographic evidence, however, Schaub’s home in no-way sounds like a hoarding situation. She does visit the house of a deceased hoarder, who was a friend of a friend. Schaub wore a mask, as she carefully waded through the mounds of trash, accumulated over many years. This made me think of an experience I had a decade ago, cleaning out the apartment of the daughter of my mom’s friend, who had died. This apartment was just on the edge of hoarder status, certainly a situation where the clutter was out of control. The job was so massive, that we ended up searching for anything of value, and then calling a company to do the clearing out. I was stunned by the enormity of it all.

Schaub writes about the accumulation of clutter, and how things as innocent as a birthday present, contribute to a growing mess. Schaub has a friend who sent out an email asking her friends and family to stop giving her gifts. She had everything she need. Schaub’s friend quickly learned that this was easier said than done; our culture shows love and appreciation through gifts. Her loved ones could not comply. I connected with this sentiment and I imagine most readers would agree that the own stuff that they simply don’t need or even want. The stuff is a burden and because it was a gift, they are even more torn over removing it from their home. Schaub makes many references to organization guru, Marie Kondo, who has a rule about only keeping objects that bring you joy. Unfortunately in Schaub’s case, she manages to “find joy” in what most people would consider to be junk. Junk, or maybe just gross, like when she decides to keep a dead mouse in a box.

DISLIKE– Although I found Year of No Clutter to be relatable and even inspirational, it lacked a sense of intensity or urgency. A year is a long time to spread out this type of project and there were no consequences for failure, other than a home with clutter. To this end, I found myself losing interest and wondering if the concept warranted a full book treatment. I think a more appropriate venue for her story would have been a lengthy magazine feature, hitting the highlights of her experiment. In book form, it lost steam.

RECOMMEND– Maybe. Schaub is funny and likable, as is her family, and Year of No Clutter is going to be relatable for many readers. Although I found myself skimming her memoir I think it would provide inspiration to many readers. Clutter is certainly a problem that plagues many people.