Shelter by Jung Yun

shelter“Why should a man care for his parents when they failed to take care of him as a child?

One of The Millions’ Most Anticipated Books of the Year (Selected by Edan Lepucki)

Kyung Cho is a young father burdened by a house he can’t afford. For years, he and his wife, Gillian, have lived beyond their means. Now their debts and bad decisions are catching up with them, and Kyung is anxious for his family’s future.

A few miles away, his parents, Jin and Mae, live in the town’s most exclusive neighborhood, surrounded by the material comforts that Kyung desires for his wife and son. Growing up, they gave him every possible advantage—private tutors, expensive hobbies—but they never showed him kindness. Kyung can hardly bear to see them now, much less ask for their help. Yet when an act of violence leaves Jin and Mae unable to live on their own, the dynamic suddenly changes, and he’s compelled to take them in. For the first time in years, the Chos find themselves living under the same roof. Tensions quickly mount as Kyung’s proximity to his parents forces old feelings of guilt and anger to the surface, along with a terrible and persistent question: how can he ever be a good husband, father, and son when he never knew affection as a child?

As Shelter veers swiftly toward its startling conclusion, Jung Yun leads us through dark and violent territory, where, unexpectedly, the Chos discover hope. Shelter is a masterfully crafted debut novel that asks what it means to provide for one’s family and, in answer, delivers a story as riveting as it is profound.” – Goodreads

On the surface, Shelter by Jung Yun appears to be a tale about a modern family in the midst of a financial crisis, brought on by living above their means. Add to that some parent/child family dynamic issues between Kyung Cho and his wealthy Korean-immigrant parents and there is a sense of palpable tension to the novel right from the start. Yet this is nothing compared to what is about to come – nothing compared to a tale so captivating, so devastating, that you won’t be able to put this book down until you’ve read every last page.

As the Chos are showing their un-fixed fixer-upper in once of the area’s nicer neighborhoods to a realtor, the three look out the back window to see a naked woman running about in the field behind the home. As Kyung looks more closely, he realizes that the woman is his own mother, with whom he has minimal contact in his daily life. And thus begins the emotionally frenzied pace of a novel I least expected.

Kyung’s parents, Jin and Mae Cho, have been the victims of a brutal home invasion in their ritzy neighborhood just blocks away from Kyung’s own home. Kyung is forced to bring them into his own home to care for them. This brings into play a plethora of issues, not the least of which includes the long-hidden abusive relationships within Kyung’s family: his father’s abuse of his mother, his mother’s abuse of Kyung, and even Kyung’s own emotional self-abuse that permeates this story. Kyung seems to be constantly filled with a sense of rage and ineptitude, trying his hardest to instill a sense of normalcy within his family yet furious when he senses anyone else – his wife, his parents, their church members – trying to do the same.

There is some strong writing and certainly a few harrowing (read: graphic) scenes in Shelter, that may cause some discomfort, however, I feel that they fit concisely within the context of the story. Ultimately, this affecting story has an universal appeal. Kyung, his struggle to hold on to his wife and child, his resistance to forgiving his parents, and his inevitable fall from grace – along with the devastating effects of the home invasion upon Jin and Mae – will keep you hooked from beginning to end as you race through the pages of this gripping and satisfying literary thriller.

Shelter by Jung Yun – On sale March 1st!

4 stars

Source: Macmillan-Picador {via NetGalley}

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