Book Reviews

Everything Belongs to Us by Yoojin Grace Wuertz


At the start of the year, I mentioned that one of my blogging goals was to read more diverse books. Set in South Korea in 1978, Everything Belongs to Us is the first diverse book I’ve read this year.

I went into this book knowing very little about South Korea’s history and culture, so I had no preconceived ideas about the location or how the characters might be portrayed in the story. I think this made the book more interesting to me, because I wasn’t just reading a story; I was learning about a place I knew practically nothing about.

The story centers mainly around Jisun, Namin, and Sunam, three Seoul National University students who come from vastly different backgrounds.

  • Jisun is the rebellious daughter of a wealthy and powerful man. Rejecting the wealth she was born into,  Jisun is a political activist who regularly takes part in protests. She’s often frustrated in her efforts, however, because of who she is.
  • Namin—Jisun’s childhood friend— is the smart, ambitious daughter of poor parents who make their meager earnings by operating a food cart. She dreams of becoming a doctor to help her disabled younger brother, and lift her family out of poverty… but her older sister Kyungmin  makes that goal difficult in more ways than one.
  • Sunam is the son of middle class parents. He desperately wants to become part of an elite group known as the Circle, via his connection to Juno—Jisun’s older brother. When he’s invited to attend a Circle gathering for prospective members, he meets Namin (who is also yearning for acceptance into the group) and Jisun… setting into motion a chain of events that will affect all of their lives.

Of the three, the story of Namin and her family was the most captivating for me. I’ve always been fond of characters who must overcome seemingly insurmountable odds in order to achieve their dreams, and Namin certainly had a tough row to hoe in that regard. Kyungmin resents that she must work long hours, and deal with unenviable household tasks while Namin is expected only to study. Kyungmin resentment of her life of toil reaches the boiling point, and she makes choices that have a devastating affect on Namin’s dreams.

There were times my attention would wander a bit as I was reading. Sunam’s story, in particular, evoked that reaction from me. He was easily the least interesting character of them all, in my opinion. Overall, I enjoyed this book, and I’m glad I read it. Solid three star rating for this one.

I received an advance review copy of this book courtesy of Netgalley and Random House.

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Author: Yoojin Grace Wuertz
Title: Everything Belongs to Us
Genre: Women’s Fiction, Historical Fiction
Publication Date: February 28, 2017 by Random House
Rating: 3 stars

About the Book

Two young women of vastly different means each struggle to find her own way during the darkest hours of South Korea s economic miracle in a striking debut novel for readers of Anthony Marra and Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie.

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.

In this sweeping yet intimate debut, Yoojin Grace Wuertz details four intertwining lives that are rife with turmoil and desire, private anxieties and public betrayals, dashed hopes and broken dreams while a nation moves toward prosperity at any cost.

About the Author

YOOJIN GRACE WUERTZ was born in Seoul, South Korea, and immigrated to the United States at age six. She holds a BA in English from Yale University and an MFA in fiction from New York University. She lives in northern New Jersey with her husband and son.