4 Stars · Reviews

Review: If You Leave Me – Crystal Hana Kim

Sooooo Im actually like really mad at myself right now.

Sometimes, I forget just how bad of a procrastinator I am. I just hate it so much, but its this thing that flairs up and rears its head when I least want it too. To give a little bit of context, I was planning to go on vacay this last week, and while I was planning to stay off social media during that time (sorry my lovely bookstagrammers) I was planning on reading like half of my August TBR, or at the very least, keeping on top of new releases. Fun fact: I only read one book. That I had already read halfway.

And then, to make it better, I finished this book on the flight there. Which was like a week ago, and have been procrastinating so much on putting my review up that as I was writing it right now, I sat back and started playing the “send me an emoji and I’ll put your post up” game thingy on bookstagram. Ugh, why do procrastination and I have such a great love-hate relationship?


Anyways, to stop procrastinating, the book at hand is none other than If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim, which was sent to me via publisher. The synopsis follows:

An emotionally riveting debut novel about war, family, and forbidden love—the unforgettable saga of two ill-fated lovers in Korea and the heartbreaking choices they’re forced to make in the years surrounding the civil war that still haunts us today.

When the communist-backed army from the north invades her home, sixteen-year-old Haemi Lee, along with her widowed mother and ailing brother, is forced to flee to a refugee camp along the coast. For a few hours each night, she escapes her family’s makeshift home and tragic circumstances with her childhood friend, Kyunghwan.

Focused on finishing school, Kyunghwan doesn’t realize his older and wealthier cousin, Jisoo, has his sights set on the beautiful and spirited Haemi—and is determined to marry her before joining the fight. But as Haemi becomes a wife, then a mother, her decision to forsake the boy she always loved for the security of her family sets off a dramatic saga that will have profound effects for generations to come.

Richly told and deeply moving, If You Leave Me is a stunning portrait of war and refugee life, a passionate and timeless romance, and a heartrending exploration of one woman’s longing for autonomy in a rapidly changing world.

Things I enjoyed about this book:

1. Varying points of view: From what I have seen on social media and Goodreads, the varying, many points of view were a lot for some people. Usually there were a year or two going by between chapters, so by the time you came around to a character, three, four, five+ years had gone by since you heard the story from their point of view. I could see how that could be confusing and a bit much for some readers. That being said, I actually quite liked trying to figure out how old the character was now. Not only that, but the many different points of view also really helped shape the story. It really gave me a feel for how each decision impacted everyone involved, and not just the person making a decision. This book was really eye-opening in the far reaching consequences that one life has on another.

2. Food and culture: The food and drinks completely immersed me in the Korean culture. There were the alcoholic drinks that the young not-quite-lovers drank as they snuck out at night in the refuge village. There were the different snacks that Jisoo bought his family on a night at the beach. I felt like I was visiting Korea when I read my way through the descriptions. To help with this cultural immersion, Kim used a lot of scenery and flower imagery. I really just want to go to Korea and try a lot of the stuff that was written about, thats how much I enjoyed reading about it.

3. Reflective of a woman’s life: Haemi had such a crazy hard life – it was so hard to struggle with her as she plodded through the hand she had been dealt. But I feel like this narrative is one that many women during Korea’s war could relate to. Women in general, throughout history, I guess. Its the story of a woman who is intelligent but for her family must give up her intelligence to be a housewife. Its the woman who gives up her passion for stability, her dreams for reality. A sad story it is, but also one that needs to be told, and one that we all need to be aware of.

4. Emotionally tragic: Okay, I didn’t cry, I’ll be honest. That doesn’t mean that this book was not one of the most heart-wrenching things I have read in a while. Every time someone would hurt another, or would leave with no warning, the chasms in relationships grew. The feelings were so raw, on the surface, vulnerable. I basically just wanted to dive into the story and bring them all together – to heal them. Alas, I couldn’t, and a book with tragic relationships and their ability to change the trajectory of everyone involved is my kind of book

The one thing I didn’t like, some of the characters’ decisions (spoiler alert): I understand that the characters are all humans. They all make decisions, that just like us, are not always the right decisions. But one thing that really grated on me was the infidelity of the different characters. Its understandable that there was a draw in particular between Haemi and her first love, but Haemi made the decision to marry Jisoo, and she knew that going behind his back would only make things worse. The biggest aggressor here was Jisoo, though. Not only did he kind of steal Haemi out from under his cousin, making their love a noose around Haemi’s neck, he didn’t even stay loyal to her. How can someone do that to another individual, to the mother of their children. I really couldn’t understand it, particularly when Haemi was still trying her very best to do everything she could for Jisoo.

I guess to summarize my feelings about this book, I would say to read it. I was exasperated by the character’s poor decisions, perhaps because I didn’t understand what led them to do the things they did. But I am young, inexperienced. Perhaps, you will better understand their struggle. So read the book, learn how the Korean War affected the lives of people long after it ended, and tell me, what do you think of the love triangle? Does Haemi’s final decision make sense, and how does it affect the people left behind?

9 thoughts on “Review: If You Leave Me – Crystal Hana Kim

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