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  • Writer's pictureKellie Burke

Review: Banned Book Club

Updated: Jul 24, 2023

Banned Book Club by Kim Hyun Sook and Ryan Estrada, illustrated by Ko Hyung-Ju

Cover of the book with title "Banned Book Club" in thick black letters and a girl holding a book.

It is 1983 in South Korea and Kim Hyun Sook has started her freshman year of college. She meets a handsome student named Hoon who invites her to a book club; she eagerly accepts thinking they'll be discussing some of the classics she has read and loved. She is shocked to find that this is an underground book club who reads banned books that could land them in jail. Risking arrest, violence, or even disappearance, Hyun Sook becomes more involved in the club and opens her eyes to the history and truth of the totalitarian regime she is living under. (The author notes that she has combined accounts of her friends and her own into one narrative for this story, as well as created a fictional university).

My Thoughts

Banned Book Club is an important read for two reasons: the first being that with an increase of books being challenged, the role of censorship and control through books is very timely. But I also find it an important examination of South Korea's history, knowing little about the Fifth Republic's military regime and the democratization movement. As with many pushes for democracy, college students were at the forefront and Hyun Sook's gradual involvement from naive student to making molotov cocktails is fascinating.

The stark black and white illustrations from Ko Hyung-Ju emphasize the tension of living in fear, with Hyun Sook's friends constantly being arrested or in dangerous situations. The use of shading is especially effective in scenes where the authorities are closing in or questioning the students.

There is still a misconception that graphic novels are simply comics with a new name- Banned Book Club is a fantastic example of how untrue that is. The illustrations and writing combine to tell a suspensful and meaningful glimpse of Hyun Sook's life and South Korean history.

Book Information

Author: Kim Hyun Sook and Ryan Estrada

Illustrator: Ko Hyung-Ju

Publisher: Iron Circus Comics

Publish Date: May 19, 2020

Genre(s): memoir, graphic novel Themes: freedom of speech, civil rights, Protagonist Description: college aged female, straight, South Korean Trigger Warnings: Violence

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