Kyung is a 30 something man struggling to keep his family afloat. He and his wife Gillian are financially drowning and unsure of how to rectify the situation when catastrophe hits. Kyung’s mother and father are brutally attacked in their own home close by, and suddenly everything changes. Kyung is now forced to care for the parents that he has resented his entire adult life. Their treatment of him as a child, and the treatment of his mother by his father is something that Kyung has not come to terms with, and instead he does his best to avoid both his parents and his memories.
The cultural aspect adds another element to the story, although ultimately this could be the story of any dysfunctional family. The Korean background of the Chos certainly aided the acceptance they all bore towards the domestic abuse that occurred amongst the family members, and Kyung’s mother, Mae Cho, especially seemed to be affected and victimized by her ethnic background.
I heard so much hype about this book at one point that I resolved to read it before the end of the year. I love a good dysfunctional family as much as the next reader, and the Chos certainly deliver in that regard.
The family members are all so flawed and all, to some degree, want to dismiss their problems instead of facing them head on. First you have Kyung and Gillian, who have made such a mess of their finances that it was very difficult to feel sympathetic towards them. That, coupled with deep seeded issues they both had with their own families, caused the foundation of their marriage to completely break down, something that neither one wanted to acknowledge.
Then you have Kyung’s intense anger towards his parents. After the attack they endured, he struggled between caring for them and aiding in their recovery while still harboring resentment towards both of them. Kyung is not the type to talk about his feelings, so his anger continued to fester until it eventually bubbled over.
This is one of those books that didn’t wow me at the time–I thought it was just ok. I could see why others were impressed with it, but I just didn’t have that connection. However, now that it has been over a month since I read it, I feel a bit differently. The characters in the story and their relationships made a deeper impact on me than most other characters from other books. And that is something that makes a big impression on me.
So while I am not including Shelter as one of my favorite reads of 2016, I do think it is an important book.
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