Finding My Voice by Marie Myung-Ok Lee focuses on17-year-old Ellen Sung, the only Korean girl in her small, all-white school in a small, all-white town. While grappling with her parents’ high academic expectations, Ellen also experiences blatant and implicit racism. Time and time again, she catches hissed remarks or sly smirks from other students, yet she doesn’t seem able to speak up against them. To further complicate her school year, Ellen earns the chance to pursue a relationship with her crush, Tomper Sandel, but her parents would never approve of dating a non-Korean boy. Ellen only has one more year before she must leave for college—what does she really want to do with this precious time, and how will she overcome the challenges of strict parents, a crush-turned-secret-boyfriend, and the hurtful comments about her ethnicity?
I absolutely adored this novel, and I read through it all in one sitting! However, it would have been even more enjoyable if it was a longer book (it is less than 200 pages long). Although the details of individual scenes feel complete, the novel as a whole is told in short chapters that describe a few experiences that make it feel slightly choppy, as if the story of Ellen’s senior year of high school amounts to nothing more than a collection of the most important events that happened during that time (which is not true at all!).
Something readers should note is that racial slurs and swear words are employed throughout the text, as well as underage drinking. Illegal behaviors (such as going into bars or trespassing in forests) and sex are mentioned too. Despite all of this, the story is engaging and doesn’t become dull, perhaps because the book is short. I think the racism is portrayed very well, especially the implicit racism, which can often be difficult to identify because people don’t realize they are being racist. Another aspect that I think is well-refined are the characters. Many characters feel like real people, and they all have very distinct personalities. I appreciate the development of some particular characters that undergo transformative character arcs over the course of the novel. In total, Finding My Voice is definitely worth the read, and you should give it a try! Final Rating: 4.5/5