RICE GIRLS by Emily A. Kim


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A debut novel focuses on two South Korean sisters reunited in Los Angeles seeking success and love.

Sally Lee-Grant, who left South Korea for America when she was a child, hasn’t seen her younger sister, Jinhee, in 16 years. When Jinhee arrives in LA, Sally reminisces about the kids they used to be. But Sally’s American life is not the way that Jinhee imagined. Sally, a struggling actress, lives in a less-than-glamorous apartment with her aspiring screenwriter fiance, Jason. She is supposed to aid her mother and sister, but barely supports herself as a cocktail waitress at a sleazy club. Ever since she was born, Sally hasn’t fit in. Sgt. George Grant, an American soldier, helped her mother during Sally’s birth. When Sally’s mother announced that she was in financial distress and her two daughters must live with relatives, George returned and made an enticing offer. He wanted to adopt Sally and take her to America. Sally agreed to go if her mother would keep Jinhee at home. Jinhee felt betrayed when her sister and George departed for the U.S. Now, Sally tries to help Jinhee get a job, navigate LA, acquire a green card, and learn to drive. Through Jinhee’s eyes, readers see the struggles of moving to a new nation, longing for home, and attempting to assimilate. When she is called as a witness in a court case, it leads her to make a difficult decision, and Sally finds herself in a new phase of her life. Kim’s novel moves back and forth between the present (1999) and the past (Jinhee and Sally’s childhood in South Korea). The descriptions of South Korea and LA are vivid, bountiful with imagery of food and city life. There is a zany cast of characters that surrounds the sisters’ childhood and the store that their parents own. But the author often uses parentheticals to define Korean terms, which is jarring and redundant as the book includes a glossary. In addition, the opening chapter is messy. It features an unnecessary monologue by Sally in a tone that is not repeated anywhere else, followed by a rushed dream sequence and Jinhee’s sudden arrival.

This bumpy tale about two young women finding themselves and reconnecting across cultures glimmers with beautiful portrayals of home and a new country.

Pub Date: June 18th, 2018
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Self
Program: Kirkus Indie
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