Somebody's Daughter: A Novel

Somebody's Daughter: A Novel

5.0 4
by Marie Myung-Ok Lee

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A "heartwarming and heartbreaking"* story of a Korean American girl's search for her roots

Somebody's Daughter is the story of nineteen-year-old Sarah Thorson, who was adopted as a baby by a Lutheran couple in the Midwest. After dropping out of college, she decides to study in Korea and becomes more and more intrigued by her Korean heritage, eventually


A "heartwarming and heartbreaking"* story of a Korean American girl's search for her roots

Somebody's Daughter is the story of nineteen-year-old Sarah Thorson, who was adopted as a baby by a Lutheran couple in the Midwest. After dropping out of college, she decides to study in Korea and becomes more and more intrigued by her Korean heritage, eventually embarking on a crusade to find her birth mother. Paralleling Sarah's story is that of Kyung-sook, who was forced by difficult circumstances to let her baby be swept away from her immediately after birth, but who has always longed for her lost child.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Young adult novelist Lee (Finding My Voice, etc.) explores a Korean-born girl's complicated journey to define her identity in her poignant adult debut. Adopted by a white Minnesota family who tried to quash any curiosity Sarah Thorson might have about her homeland, the directionless 20-year-old drops out of college and enrolls in a Korean-language program in Seoul. As she struggles to fit in, she recognizes her desire to learn about her birth family, and she's shocked to learn that she was abandoned as a baby (she'd been told her parents died in a car accident). With the help of her new boyfriend, Korean-American Doug, who educates her about her homeland and its citizens ("Cut open a Korean and... you'll find: salt and hot red peppers," he tells her over a meal of spicy soup), she goes on a Korean TV show dedicated to finding missing persons. When a woman comes forward, the two begin to form a bond, but a DNA test proves them unrelated. Meanwhile, Lee spins out the parallel story line of Sarah's birth mother: Kyung-Sook had dreams of pursuing a career in Korean folk music, but she fell for an American hippie who abandoned her once she became pregnant. Now 50, Kyung-Sook sees Sarah on TV and comes to Seoul to find her. Lee sidesteps a tender emotional reunion, though, in favor of an honest portrayal of a mother's sacrifice and a daughter's growth. (Apr.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
In 1972, Kyung Sook left her Korean village to attend college in Seoul. Once there, she ran away to fulfill her dream of being a musician, working in a noodle restaurant to support herself. Her world was shattered by a young American who abandoned Kyung when she became pregnant. After Kyung returned home in disgrace, her mother did not even take time to wash the afterbirth off the baby girl before rushing her to an orphanage. Twenty-one years later, adoptee Sarah Thorson impulsively begins a study program in Korea, hoping to find her birth mother. She meets others of mixed parentage, including Doug, son of an American GI and a Korean prostitute. He becomes her lover as well as translator and arranges for Sarah's appearance on a "Missing Persons" television show. Sarah is thrilled when a woman comes forward claiming to be her mother but is shattered when their DNA does not match. Just before her return to America, Sarah solos on a native drum during a recital. For a moment, she glimpses a sad-faced Korean woman and realizes it is "her." Kyung Sook has actually returned to Seoul after seeing the television show but loses her nerve and races home without meeting her daughter, denying readers their hoped-for happy ending. A melancholy tune plays throughout this poignant tale of what might have been as two parallel stories are revealed-the stoic, tragic shrimp seller and her "coconut" daughter, destined never to know her true mother. It is a beautifully written story for special readers who have the time to devote to it. VOYA CODES: 4Q 3P S A/YA (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Will appeal with pushing; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult-marketed bookrecommended for Young Adults). 2005, Beacon Press, 264p., Ages 15 to Adult.
—Pam Carlson
Library Journal
The author of four YA novels, including Finding My Voice and Saying Goodbye, Lee has now written a beautiful story for adults. It is the tale of two women: Sarah Thorson, a young Korean American college student who had been adopted by a couple in Minnesota; and Kyung-Sook, an older Korean woman living in the village of Enduring Pine. Their parallel stories intertwine slowly as the reader discovers that Kyung-Sook is Sarah's birth mother. It is Sarah's mission in Korea to find her, but the two pass each other at Chosun University. Told with grace and elegance, this novel shows a wonderful talent at work. Lee is a gifted writer who has composed a stirring, heartfelt tale without sentimentality that will appeal to many readers. Highly recommended for all libraries, particularly those interested in Korean culture.-Lisa Rohrbaugh, East Palestine Memorial P.L., OH Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Nineteen-year-old Sarah was raised in Minnesota but born in Korea. She struggles with the reality of having two mothers: the one who gave her away and the one who adopted her. She enrolls in a yearlong exchange program at Chosun University in Seoul to learn Korean and discover her roots. In alternating chapters, readers learn about her birth mother, and about the circumstances surrounding Sarah's birth and adoption. The stories eventually converge, but the main theme of the novel is how mother and daughter each struggle with grief and acceptance. The most interesting parts of this book are the descriptions of Korea as told through Sarah's first-person narrative. Nothing has prepared her for how truly foreign she would find the country. Doug, another student, introduces her to the foods and customs of Korea and joins in her search. He also becomes her lover. Somebody's Daughter will appeal to teens with an interest in multicultural issues, especially cross-racial adoption. But it can also be read for its vivid portrait of the country. Lee's portrayal of rural villages, a bustling modern city, and the people who have preserved their heritage in the face of civil war is strong and memorable.-Sheila Janega, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Young-adult author Lee follows a Korean American woman, adopted as a baby by an American family, to her homeland to learn the language and find her birth mother. Korean by ethnicity but American to the core culturally, Sarah Thorson is almost 20 when she announces that for her graduation trip she wants to go to Korea. Her worried, blue-eyed parents of Eden's Prairie, Minnesota, tell her: "You don't have to do this to yourself." As part of the Motherland Program at Chosun University in Seoul, Sarah joins other Korean American students who are trying to mold an identity-except that Sarah, whose name sounds like "child for purchase" in Korean, doesn't know a word of the language, can't even communicate to buy something to eat. While she is making new friends-like Jun-Ho, a Korean soldier at the Balzac Cafe, whose malapropisms charm her; and the Korean-American Doug, in her program, who becomes her protective boyfriend-there emerges a mirror narrative concerning the life of a woman who might or might not be Sarah's birth mother. Kyung-Sook has been selling shrimp at the market in Enduring Pine Village for 20 years, married to a man who didn't sire the daughter she gave up for adoption in 1972. Lee's story is an unflinching examination of identity, as Sarah continually asks who she is: the Fabulous Sarah of her high-school years? Or a Korean "Twinkie," yellow on the outside, white on the inside? The other students are derisive, asking whether the majority of Koreans in the States can trace "their way back to some Korean whore who hooked up with a GI"? The dual narratives are effective, though the plotting tends to get heavily scripted, as Sarah, for example, appears on a TV show about missingpersons, and ends up playing the same kind of flute, the taegum, that Kyung-Sook once played. Nopnetheless, Lee's first adult outing is an authentic, emotionally powerful portrayal of two cultures.
From the Publisher
What a beautifully realized and emotionally rich but subtle novel this is. Lee's story of one young woman's search for self in Korea will resonate equally with both adult and young adult readers-a remarkable achievement.—Michael Cart, author of Necessary Noise: Stories of Our Families as They Really Are

"Somebody's Daughter is a gift for those forgotten, for the thousands of Korean children adopted by white parents, for those who search and yearn for a sense of home and self."—Nora Okja Keller, author of Comfort Woman and Fox Girl

"If you're looking for a book that is both heartwarming and heartbreaking, then this is for you. Sarah's search for her mother and Kyung-sook's search for her daughter are guaranteed tearjerkers."—Taylor Amato, Elle Girl*

"Lee manages to be both comic and frank in this story of one girl's journey back to Korea and her lost mother's own journey toward redemption." —Ann Hood, author of The Ornithologist's Guide to Life

"Sarah's wry honesty is just one of the pleasures of this wonderfully observed novel . . . Somebody's Daughter is a treat."-Ellen Shapiro, People

"Sumptuous and emotionally stunning . . . Once you begin this novel, you won't be able to put it down, infused as it is with our fragile sense of self, the search for natural parents to anchor one's identity, and Lee's elegant, imagistically sinuous prose that continually stabs the heart." -Sam Coale, Providence Journal

"Somebody's Daughter is that rare book, that rare page-turner, the one you cannot put down, the one you will suspend washing the laundry for or cooking breakfast for. It is the novel you will open and read in one urgent breath as you take in the storyteller's compelling tale of lives felt long after the book's end as you turn off the light to sleep." —Lois-Ann Yamanaka, author of Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers

"Be prepared to put yourself in the adoptee's frame of mind. It is written from our viewpoint, and it's a keeper."—Eun Mi Young, Adoptive Families

"Her colorful characters crackle and pop off the page . . . A grown-up gem of a novel where joy mingles with sorrow, and heartbreak is laced with hope."
-Allison Block, Booklist, starred review

Product Details

Beacon Press
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Penguin Random House Publisher Services
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425 KB

Meet the Author

Marie Myung-Ok Lee, author of three young adult novels, including Finding My Voice and Saying Goodbye, has received many honors for her writing, among them an O. Henry honorable mention, and both Best Book for Young Adults and Best Book for Reluctant Readers citations from the American Library Association. She is currently a visiting scholar at her alma mater, Brown University, in Providence, Rhode Island.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Somebody's Daughter 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book -- I'm not Korean American or adopted, but I am a fan of great novels, and this is one. The two parallel stories of Sarah and her birth mother are beautifully written, and the mystery of whether Sarah will meet her birth mother is revealed to my great satisfaction. The description of life in Korea (now and in the early 1970s) is very evocative. This is one of my favorite books of 2005.
Guest More than 1 year ago
'Shortly after landing in Seoul to begin language classes, Sarah Thorson, a 19-year-old Korean-American adoptee raised by Minnesota Lutherans, is called a Twinkie--'yellow on the outside, white on the inside.' The taunt hardly fazes her. 'In a taxonomy of Hostess junk food cakes, I went beyond Twinkie. I was a Sno-ball, the coconut treat that's white to the core.' Sarah's wry honesty is just one of the pleasures of this wonderfully observed novel. Interspersed with Sarah's adventures in Korea's often-bewildering terrain is the story of Kyung-sook, a shrimp seller haunted by memories of the daughter she had to abandon. Resisting easy resolution, the dual narratives bring to life a country where 'everything was changeable in the blink of an eye.' Somebody's Daughter is a treat.'' --Ellen Shapiro
Guest More than 1 year ago
The story of Sarah, a Korean adoptee and her struggle with being Korean but knowing nothing about her heritage. Also the story of her birth mother and why she made the decision to give her up. I am a Korean adoptee too and I could really relate to the book. Although it is fictional it gives a perspective that many adoptees can attest to - that being adopted was probaby for the best, but it is still difficult not knowing your own personal history. The book gives a great description of Korean attitudes and it's culture, past and present.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This novel is by far the BEST I came across in a long time. It's a story of a woman trying to find her Korean identity. I know there's a lot of stories like this but Lee did a great job writing about the protagonist's journey and emotions. Overall, great book!!