First Impression Friday will be a meme where you talk about a book that you JUST STARTED! Maybe you’re only a chapter or two in, maybe a little farther. Based on this sampling of your current read, give a few impressions and predict what you’ll think by the end.
This story is, in short, a bout a monster meeting another monster. One of the monsters is me.
Yunjae was born with a brain condition called alexithymia that makes it hard for him to feel emotions like fear or anger. He does not have friends – the two almond-shaped neurons located deep in his brain have seen to that – but his devoted mother and grandmother provide him with a safe and content life. Their little home above his mother’s used-book store is decorated with colorful Post-it notes that remind him when to smile, when to say “thank you,” and when to laugh.
Then on Christmas Eve – Yunjae’s sixteenth birthday – everything changes. A shocking act of random violence shatters his world, leaving him alone and on his own. Struggling to cope with his loss, Yunjae retreats into silent isolation, until troubled teenager Gon arrives at his school, and they develop a surprising bond.
As Yunjae begins to open his life to new people – including a girl at school – something slowly changes inside him. And when Gon suddenly finds his life at risk, Yunjae will have the chance to step outside of every comfort zone he has created to perhaps become the hero of his own story.
In the vein of The Emissary and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, Almost is a beautifully written, unique novel that is as charming as it is a tribute to how love, friendship, and persistence can change a life forever.
Wah! I can’t believe that it is already the last day of the fourth month of the year! It feels both like a lot has happened and nothing has happened at all. I hope everyone is safe and is doing great. The pandemic is still as present as ever, causing great damage in nearly every corner of the world. Most of the Philippines is still in lockdown, or community quarantine as our politicians want to call it. I am with everyone and with the world in hoping and praying that this pandemic will end soon. I also hope everyone is ending their work week on a high note.
Fridays also mean a First Impression Friday update. At the start of the month, or more like way back in March, I decided to dedicate my April reading month exclusively to works of Asian literature. I am now on the last book of this reading journey. Sohn Won-Pyung’s Almond shoot to fame BTS’ Suga was seen reading the book in one episode of the popular KPop boy group’s variety shows. At first, I kept ignoring the book as I don’t have any iota on what it was about or who the author is. Even after I learned about the BTS reference, the book didn’t pique my curiosity. That was until a couple of days ago when I just decided to purchase the book, seeing as it is that I am in the midst of an Asian literature month. Before I knew it, I am closing my April journey with Almond.
To reiterate, I barely had an iota on what the book was about when I bought it. After reading the author’s notes, my curiosity was piqued. The novel explores a complex and perhaps uncommon disability through its primary character and narrator, Yunjae. At a young age, Yunjae’s actions and reactions showed that he is no normal kid, even his mother can discern that. Several consultations with doctors yielded no conclusive answer to his mother’s probing questions. He looked normal, even his medical examinations showed so. However, his disability is something that cannot easily be diagnosed or determined by medical doctors.
Yunjae, it was learned, was suffering from a condition called alexithymia. Basically, he has virtually no emotional consciousness or awareness, he was having a challenging time processing, determining, and expressing various emotions or feeling. Someone can be killed in front of him but he won’t know how to feel. He is aware of what needs to be done but he stares and stands there, nonchalant. At least, that was how it was depicted in the narrative. The cause of this disability was due to his smaller than normal amygdala, the “emotion center” of the brain. It has an almond shape, hence, the book’s title.
Because of his disability, Yunjae is also socially disabled. His peers and schoolmates bully him or ignore him. They make fun of him, both in front of him and behind his back. Despite the ruckus, he maintained his stoic face. His abnormality made Yunjae believe that he is a “monster”. His life unraveled with the introduction of a new character, Gon. He was a bully and tried his earnest to crack Yunjae. I am halfway through the book and I have a lot of expectations for the book because of how Sohn wove Yunjae’s intricate story.
I have read some reviews in Goodreads and while there were stellar reviews, there were some who were let down by some aspects of the novel, in particular, its conclusion. Almond is a work of young adult fiction and I can already foresee some of the issues that some readers have highlighted. Still, the novel had a strong start despite some graphic scenes, and Gon’s introduction to the story gave the novel a different complexion. One of the things I have noted is the story’s take on bullying which, I guess, is timely, as Korean news has been proliferated by various accounts of several celebrities bullying their classmates during their middle and high school years. Some accounts were proven true whilst some were discovered to be riding the wave of the recent exposes. Personally, I feel like their brand of bullying is systemic that slowly developed into cultural.
Another thing, when I started reading the book, I recommended to a friend a book by Jodi Picoult dealing with Asperger’s Syndrome. I didn’t realize then that I would be reading about disability; Asperger’s was also mentioned in the novel for many deem it similar to alexithymia. I have a lot on my mind on how the story is going to unfold. I am kind of expecting a less than stellar conclusion but I am enjoying the part of the narrative I am in right now. Both Gon and Yunjae are interesting characters and I can’t wait to see how their characters develop through the story. I am not putting my hopes up but I am fervently hoping Sohn will change my mind.
That’s it for now. How about you fellow reader, what book are you going to read this weekend? I hope it is a book that you’ve been looking forward to and I hope you enjoy it. Keep safe, and happy weekend!