Kim’s English debut is a descent into the dark world of a teenage girl.
Crystal lives in P City, South Korea, where she attends high school, cram school, and extra tutoring. Her life, full of intense academic pressure and economic privilege, is devoid of much adult oversight. We meet her in a living room with her best friend, Mina, and Mina’s brother, Minho. They listen to Kim Gordon, order pizza, and, as “a game, a joke,” Crystal begins to strangle Mina, leaving marks on her neck. In some ways, Crystal comes across as a typical, confused teen. She has a boyfriend who she thinks may be immature. She's a good student who feels she may merely tell adults what they want to hear. But she has a warped and widely vacillating self-image: “She is perfect because she is unfeeling and doesn’t know love." Still, Crystal may not be unique in her numbed, fragile mental state. Suicides are common among her peers, and a classmate’s suicide ruptures Mina and Crystal’s friendship. Throughout the novel, teen dialogue is rendered realistically, perhaps to a fault; it is nearly impossible to distinguish the voices of friends who come to sound so much alike. As Crystal slips further into delusions, pagelong paragraphs pull us deep into her mind, an uncomfortable, claustrophobic place to be. “There are too many people who ought to be killed,” Crystal writes in an assignment and then deletes. Kim’s prose is focused, sharp, and unflinching, even—and especially—in the novel’s gruesome scenes. We see the color of blood mixed with milk, for instance. It is “the color of strawberries.” The novel is full of such vivid details, difficult to read and more difficult to forget.
A startling, disturbing portrait of teenage friendship.