You know, I hadn’t been sick at all in 2016, and then I had to open up my big mouth and brag about that fact. Being sick twice in less than a month is terrible, but it’s also pretty great because I’ve been sitting at home, reading some awesome books. Like the one I get to gush about today, Everything Belongs to Us.
Title: Everything Belongs to Us (368 pgs)
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publication Date: February 28, 2017
Seoul, 1978. At South Korea’s top university, the nation’s best and brightest compete to join the professional elite of an authoritarian regime. Success could lead to a life of rarefied privilege and wealth; failure means being left irrevocably behind.
For childhood friends Jisun and Namin, the stakes couldn’t be more different. Jisun, the daughter of a powerful business mogul, grew up on a mountainside estate with lush gardens and a dedicated chauffeur. Namin’s parents run a tented food cart from dawn to curfew. Her sister works in a shoe factory. Now Jisun wants as little to do with her father’s world as possible, abandoning her schoolwork in favor of the underground activist movement, while Namin studies tirelessly in the service of one goal: to launch herself and her family out of poverty.
But everything changes when Jisun and Namin meet an ambitious, charming student named Sunam, whose need to please his family has led him to a prestigious club: the Circle. Under the influence of his mentor, Juno, a manipulative social climber, Sunam becomes entangled with both women, as they all make choices that will change their lives forever.
First, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: that cover. Good lord, that cover is so gorgeous that I could stare at it all day. It was actually the reason why I clicked on it on NetGalley, and the summary was what got me to ask for it. Thank goodness I did.
Jisun and Namin have the strangest relationship. From the beginning, I don’t know if I would call them friends, but they are…in a weird, roundabout way. They have each others’ backs when the other needs it, but they are vicious with one another in that subtle way only girls can be. Jisun wants to change the world for those less fortunate, even though she comes from the kind of world that most of us can only dream about. Namin wants to change the world for her family, bring them out of poverty and bring home her only brother who has been caste aside due to his disability. But neither girl has it easy.
Jisun must constantly contend with her father, a man who wants his daughter to take over his business, a daughter who wants nothing to do with him. Namin must succeed in school or else she’s afraid she might go the way of her older sister, Kyungmin, a factory girl who ends up in a worse situation than living in a poor neighborhood.
And yet, there is Sunam.
The twists and turns in this book were enough to make me dizzy. Everyone wants something, and it seems that some care less about who they hurt than others. My sympathy lay with Namin, because she worked the hardest and had the most to lose if she failed. But she didn’t understand help, which would have cemented her friendship with Jisun and would have allowed Sunam a bigger glimpse into her inner workings. You could feel bad for any of the characters, really, because they all have something to lose, but Namin’s world depended on her graduating from college and becoming a doctor. It was heartbreaking to read about her days, especially near the end. You want to reach out and help her, but you know she wouldn’t take it.
My workplace is made up of about 95% Korean children, and listening to them tell me about how important it is to be the best, to be at the top, helps me understand Namin a bit more. It also gives me a peek into Sunam’s life, one where he doesn’t want to disappoint his parents and does what he can to bring them pride. And also Jisun, the girl who fights against her father at every chance, but is more like him than anyone else in the story. It’s a universal tale, one that has so much more impact set in 1978 South Korea.
This is a special book, special in a way that I can’t quite articulate. I felt it in my bones that this is one of those stories that will pop in my head at random times in my life, because everything felt real and scarily close. It’s a story about not disappointing those around you, and figuring out how far you’re willing to go before your realize you have to take care of yourself first.
Like I said, a universal tale.
Grab this book today and read it through the night. You (and your dark circles) will thank me later.