Book Review: Finding Junie Kim by Ellen Oh
For fans of Inside Out and Back Again and Amina’s Voice, We Need Diverse Books cofounder Ellen Oh creates a breathtaking story of family, hope, and survival, inspired by her mother’s real-life experiences during the Korean War. Faced with middle school racism, Junie Kim learns of her grandparents’ extraordinary strength and finds her voice.
“Filled with unforgettable characters, this profoundly moving story about a girl’s search for self is at once both unique and universal, timely and timeless. A book that should be on every shelf.” —Padma Venkatraman, Walter Award-winning author of The Bridge Home
Junie Kim just wants to fit in. So she keeps her head down and tries not to draw attention to herself. But when racist graffiti appears at her middle school, Junie must decide between staying silent or speaking out.
Then Junie’s history teacher assigns a project and Junie decides to interview her grandparents, learning about their unbelievable experiences as kids during the Korean War. Junie comes to admire her grandma’s fierce determination to overcome impossible odds, and her grandpa’s unwavering compassion during wartime. And as racism becomes more pervasive at school, Junie taps into the strength of her ancestors and finds the courage to do what is right.
Finding Junie Kim is a reminder that within all of us lies the power to overcome hardship and emerge triumphant.
This is another book I picked up to read in preparation for my upcoming SLJ article on mental health in middle grade fiction. I have the luxury of reading at work when the kids do their cuddle up and read time, and I got so into this story that it was really difficult for me to not keep sneaking in a few pages here and there throughout the day.
Junie Kim is not feeling like herself. She’s cranky, cynical, sleeping all the time, moody, and just feels down. Those feelings eventually escalate to suicidal ideation, which lands her, thankfully, with a doctor and a therapist helping her through her major depressive disorder diagnosis. She gets good help, has supportive and loving parents, and is on medication. Readers see her move from one therapist to a second because the first was not a good fit. We see what therapy looks like for her and learn about mindfulness and emotion regulation. She has rough times, she gets help, she shares what’s going on with her to complete acceptance and understanding from people in her life, and we can rest assured that Junie is being well taken care of.
I picked this book up for its mental health rep, but was delighted to find so much else going on in Junie’s story (because, after all, a mental illness is always just one part of your story—it’s never your whole definition). Junie and her friends are dealing with racist vandalism at school and Junie hears a near infinite stream of racist garbage from certain peers. She and her friends brainstorm ways to be activists and to inspire their classmates to recognize racism and stand up against it. The other biggest piece of Junie’s current life is learning the stories of her grandparents’ younger years during the Korean War. Through their storytelling, we are put right back there with them, learning what they endured and dreamed of. Their own stories are riveting and their effect on Junie inspires action in her daily life as well as a deeper understanding of what her family has been through. An important read about standing up for yourself and others, about getting help, and about enduring. I’m so glad I didn’t miss this book.
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 05/04/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years
Filed under: Uncategorized
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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