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Under great pressure from her demanding military father, Yu-jin, a sensitive girl from the southern part of South Korea, gains acceptance to a prestigious all-girls college in Seoul. She secretly hopes to “reinvent [her]self, start anew” in the dazzling big city, where she will discover her passion for filmmaking. But after her parents move to the capital and her father is named National Minister of Defense, she remains under close scrutiny. That creates big problems for her after she falls for So-ra, a strong-willed female classmate who wants to be open about their romance. To divert (literal) spying eyes, Yu-jin dates Min, a likable biracial Korean American who moved to Seoul from Los Angeles as a Samsung consultant in hopes of finding “some sense of belonging.” Then there is the stylish Misaki, a Japanese outsider from a wealthy family whom Yu-jin and So-ra invite to be their roommate—only to coldly ignore her—as another means of hiding the true nature of their relationship. All permutations of this four-way connection unfold dramatically after Yu-jin is found dead of an apparent suicide. In an unusual format, the story is told in alternating chapters by Min (through the third person) as he investigates Yu-jin’s death under threat from government operatives, and by Yu-jin, who narrates the events leading up to her death. Wiley, a first-time novelist, tends to explain his characters’ needs and motivations. But fueled by deep feeling and a powerful sense of place, the book gains real emotional traction in capturing the despair of striving individuals pushed to the margins by conformist norms.

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