In this portal fantasy, a Korean teenager must complete a dangerous quest to save her annoying younger brother.
For Young-hee, 13, nothing about her family’s return to Seoul after five years in Canada has been pleasant. When she discovers a hidden door to a vibrant magical land, it’s a welcome escape from her life’s depressing realities. Young-hee’s younger brother accompanies her on her second trip through the portal, and during that trip, he falls for a trap set by a crafty dokkaebi (goblin). So Young-hee makes a desperate deal with the dokkaebi: She will go on a journey to find a pullocho, a rare magical plant, and exchange it for her brother’s freedom so they can both return home. Russell enriches his debut novel with many details borrowed from Korean folk tales. Fans of stories within stories will enjoy the tales included here, but young readers may find it difficult to keep track of the numerous Korean terms, as no glossary is provided. The novel’s pacing suffers from Russell’s decision to open with Young-hee’s bargain with the dokkaebi before backtracking to her move to Seoul; it takes nearly a third of the book to get back to the first scene. It’s also hard not to find it ironic that sullen Young-hee’s default complaint is “So annoying.”
More mundane than magical. (Fantasy. 9-13)