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Reviews of Almond by Sohn Won-pyung

Almond

by Sohn Won-pyung

Almond by Sohn Won-pyung X
Almond by Sohn Won-pyung
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    May 2020, 272 pages

    Paperback:
    Jun 2021, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kelly Hydrick
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About this Book

Book Summary

The Emissary meets The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime in this poignant and triumphant story about how love, friendship, and persistence can change a life forever.

This story is, in short, about a monster meeting another monster.

One of the monsters is me.



Yunjae was born with a brain condition called Alexithymia that makes it hard for him to feel emotions like fear or anger. He does not have friends―the two almond-shaped neurons located deep in his brain have seen to that―but his devoted mother and grandmother aren't fazed by his condition. Their little home above his mother's used bookstore is decorated with colorful post-it notes that remind him when to smile, when to say "thank you," and when to laugh. Yunjae grows up content, even happy, with his small family in this quiet, peaceful space.

Then on Christmas Eve―Yunjae's sixteenth birthday―everything changes. A shocking act of random violence shatters his world, leaving him alone and on his own. Struggling to cope with his loss, Yunjae retreats into silent isolation, until troubled teenager Gon arrives at his school and begins to bully Yunjae.

Against all odds, tormentor and victim learn they have more in common than they realized. Gon is stumped by Yunjae's impassive calm, while Yunjae thinks if he gets to know the hotheaded Gon, he might learn how to experience true feelings. Drawn by curiosity, the two strike up a surprising friendship. As Yunjae begins to open his life to new people―including a girl at school―something slowly changes inside him. And when Gon suddenly finds his life in danger, it is Yunjae who will step outside of every comfort zone he has created to perhaps become a most unlikely hero.

Part One

1

Six were dead, and one was wounded that day. First were Mom and Granny. Then a college student who had rushed in to stop the man. Then two men in their fifties who had stood in the front rank of the Salvation Army parade, followed by a policeman. Finally, the man himself. He had chosen to be the last victim of his manic bloodshed. He stabbed himself in the chest hard and, like most of the other victims, died before the ambulance came. I simply watched the whole thing unfold before me.

Just standing there with blank eyes, as always.

2

The first incident happened when I was six. The symptoms had been there way earlier, but it was then that they had finally risen to the surface. That day, Mom must've forgotten to come get me from kindergarten. She told me later that she had gone to see Dad after all these years, to tell him that she would finally let him go, not that she would meet someone new or anything, but that she would move on anyway. Apparently, she had said all ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

With its confessional tone and short chapters, the novel is diary-like, showing a record of Yunjae's daily life after the attack and his attempts to understand more about his neurodivergent brain. It seems that it is precisely because Yunjae can't recognize emotions and has had to study them that he has such a profound understanding of the rather subjective nature of the language humans use to describe feelings. This slipperiness of language, of how people describe their worlds and the ways they experience them, is really at the heart of Almond, and is brought to light by this unexpected protagonist...continued

Full Review (1007 words).

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(Reviewed by Kelly Hydrick).

Media Reviews

Salon
In her debut novel, film director and screenwriter Sohn Won-pyung (with the assistance of translator Sandy Joosun Lee) has created a tender exploration of adolescence — a universal experience complicated here by extraordinary circumstances. This is one of those books that deftly straddles the line between young adult and adult fiction; it has such a gentle heart that readers of all ages will recognize and sympathize with the characters' struggles and celebrate when they ultimately triumph.

Shelf Awareness
The narration by a young protagonist with a disorder that affects his ability to identify and express feelings will rightly draw comparisons to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, but Sohn's insightful depiction of an outsider's perspective on society around him will also please fans of other narrators who sharply consider the world at a remove, such as in The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen. Readers will treasure the opportunity to see the world through Yunjae's eyes and watch him as he grows.

Booklist (starred review)
In what might be the first novel to feature a protagonist with alexithymia—an inability to identify and express one's feelings—Korean novelist Sohn's affecting debut arrives stateside...Winner of the prestigious Changbi Prize for Young Adult Fiction in Korea, Sohn presents a 15-year-old neurodiverse protagonist with much resonance.

Kirkus Reviews
The novel will appeal fully to adults, but mature young readers who must cope in their everyday lives with the struggles of late adolescence will find themselves identifying with Yunjae and moved by his plight. A sensitive exploration of what it's like to live at life's emotional poles.

Library Journal
Impressively portraying Yunjae's shrugged-shoulder calm and efforts to understand his world, Sohn offers a heartening study of human emotion.

Author Blurb Heinz Insu Fenkl, author of Memories of My Ghost Brother and translator of The Nine Cloud Dream by Kim Man-jung
Almond is a tour de force - deeply engaging, engrossing, and troubling - a poignant allegory of the contemporary Korean condition that marks the debut of a new international talent.

Author Blurb Jamie Marina Lau, author of Pink Mountain on Locust Island
Delicate and heartbreaking. Like peeling a fruit, Sohn bares human emotion and questions the human condition with a gentle hunger.

Author Blurb Madeleine Ryan, author of A Room Called Earth
Won-pyung Sohn understands that those who think, feel, and communicate differently aren't society's villains, they are its saviors. Her writing possesses seemingly unlimited empathy and tenderness.

Reader Reviews

Selene Alonso

Book review
In my opinion I really loved how the author dug deep into the characters emotion and personality. It's not something easy to do, her work "Almond" is beyond words. Her work needs to get more recognized.

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Beyond the Book

Neurodiversity

Rainbow infinity symbol representing neurodiversity pride The term neurodiversity refers to the diversity of human brains and minds — the infinite variation in neurocognitive functioning within our species. Neurodiversity encompasses both neurotypical individuals whose neurocognitive functioning is considered by societal standards to be "normal," as well as neurodivergent individuals who experience cognitive, affectual and/or sensory processes that diverge from the typical. Although the term neurodiversity was originally coined by scientist Judy Singer, who is autistic, in the late 1990s and specifically used to describe autistic neurotypes, today it also includes ADHD, bipolar conditions, dyslexia, dyspraxia, OCD, schizophrenia, Tourette syndrome and other neurodevelopmental ...

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