cover image Banned Book Club

Banned Book Club

Kim Hyun Sook and Ryan Estrada, illus. by Ko Hyung-Ju. Iron Circus Comics, $15 paper (192p) ISBN 978-1-94-582042-7

South Korea, 1983—the height of military dictatorship and three years after the infamous Gwangju Uprising. Against this backdrop of political oppression, bookish Hyun Sook defies her parents’ wishes and attends Anjeon University, a hotbed of student protest. Initially ignorant of government propaganda and terrified of attracting the attention of authorities, Hyun Sook’s views are slowly challenged after she joins the Banned Book Club and befriends a group of student activists. Her transformation into a pro-democracy activist mirrors the real-life experiences of the author. Kim and Estrada bravely address a period of history little-known outside of South Korea and depict the often-violent consequences of defying an authoritarian regime. Less successful are the moments of levity, which feel jarringly sandwiched between scenes of violence and tension; Ko’s gritty style, marked by deep shadows and sinister rendering of characters’ expressions, also feels incongruous with humorous moments. Certain cultural and historical references may be lost on readers less familiar with Korean history, yet the messages of hope are universal, as are the poignant reminders that change can happen when people are willing to speak up. Ages 14–up. (May)