Twelve-year-old Junie Kim’s middle school classes are about to begin and already she is “filled with that horrible empty-stomach crampy feeling of dread.” The year before at the school bus stop, she and her older brother, Justin, had suffered racist slurs because of their Korean heritage. The siblings never told their parents, knowing that their mother, a passionate lawyer, would confront the offenders, their parents, and school authorities and cause a scene.
Though Junie and her brother were born in the United States, Junie feels that, according to some people, she’ll never be truly American. So she tries to hide in the crowd, to make herself invisible, suffering emotional trauma in ways that she is yet unaware of.
When vandals paint racist slurs targeting Black, Asian, and Jewish people on the walls of the gym in Junie’s middle school, she is faced with a choice. Will she speak up and take a stand like her friends are doing, or will she run and hide?
As Junie navigates her deepest fears, confronting depression and suicidal ideation as a result of the bullying, she encounters an unexpected lifeline in an oral history assignment, a project for which she interviews her grandparents about their experiences as children in the Korean War. As she learns about the destructive power of conflicting ideologies to tear family, friends, and a nation apart, Junie draws parallels to her own experience of racism in the United States and discovers her own voice to speak out against it.
Though recommended for children ages 8-12, this absorbing, timely novel for middle school readers, based on the experiences of author Ellen Oh’s mother during the Korean War, is better suited to ages 13 and up due to the detailed description of wartime atrocities and the difficult realities of depression and suicidal ideation in children. (HarperCollins)