Banned Book Club, a fictionalized account of Hyun Sook Kim’s experiences growing up in South Korea and becoming radicalized after forming a club to read forbidden literature, rendered as a graphic novel with art by Hyung-Ju Ko, struck a chord when it was released in 2020. Per PW’s starred review, its “messages of hope are universal, as are the poignant reminders that change can happen when people are willing to speak up.” The title has also, ironically enough, been challenged in several U.S. school districts, accused of “anti-police sentiment” and “creating dangerous anarchists in our schools” (per a challenge filed in Clay County Schools in North Carolina).

“We didn’t intend for Banned Book Club to be a metaphor for what was happening to the U.S., but it accidentally became that,” says Ryan Estrada, Kim’s coauthor (and spouse). Estrada has become an outspoken advocate for libraries, in one case flying 7,000 miles from South Korea to Kentucky to address a challenge. (He was successful.)

A follow-up, No Rules Tonight, is due from Penguin Workshop in October (this time drawn by Estrada). PW talked with the married coauthors about their advocacy and what fans can look forward to with No Rules Tonight, which returns to 1980s South Korea and joins the high schoolers on a getaway field trip—where romance blossoms away from constant adult (and government) oversight.

Hyun Sook, how did it feel to be a student living in a repressive society?

Kim: If you criticized the president, they put you in jail. In my university, there were undercover policemen, so we always had to be careful if we discussed the books that we read. They tortured people, and many of my friends were beaten or taken away to the army and then disappeared. I realized the world that I knew was a lie, and I wanted to learn the truth about the history of our country and the outside world.

Why did you seek out these banned books?

Kim: I thought, okay, why are those books banned? It’s just that the books talk about the world, about society, about
justice. But South Korea’s leader at that time, the dictator Chun Doo-Hwan, didn’t want the people to know the truth.

Has Banned Book Club been banned in South Korea?

Estrada: No. Korea learned so much from what they went through. There’s a lot of movies on the same types of topics as Banned Book Club, and former president Park Geun-hye, whose father was the one that started all the censorship, tried to blacklist any filmmakers or authors that were writing about that kind of thing. But the people were like, oh no, we’ve seen what happens, you’re not doing this, and they rose up and removed her from power and put her in jail.

How did you feel when Banned Book Club was challenged in the U.S.?

Kim: Shocked. How can it be happening in America?

How does No Rules Tonight relate to Banned Book Club?

Estrada: When your life is controlled so much and you have one night of freedom, what do you do with it? After we wrote Banned Book Club, we had a lot of stories left over. We set them all during one night, Christmas Eve, and show that one of the best things you can do to make the future world a better place is to be your real, true authentic self and lead by example.

Did your editors try to tone down the book to hold off possible challenges?

Estrada: No. All the editing was feedback that made the story better. No one was saying, “This is going to offend people.” They encouraged us to explore diverse stories. In Banned Book Club there’s a queer character, Suji, but because everything’s so repressed, she’s afraid to talk about it. So, in No Rules Tonight, we got deeper into her story. There’s also a trans character. We wanted to reflect on the parts of society that are affected by these bans, so we had these characters learning about Korean history and famous Korean folk heroes that were trans.

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