”This story is, in short, about a monster meeting another monster. One of the monsters is me.”
It’s been ages I buddy read “Almond” with my friend Katja but I really wanted to write a review about the book. Unfortunately my life got in the way and I neither read as much as I wanted to nor did I manage to write reviews about the books I finished. I’m going to rectify that now though and after I wrote this review there will follow a couple of other reviews as well. So watch out for them. It’s about time I write them down. 😉 This said, let’s head right back to the actual review and speak about “Almond”.
”Granny, why do people call me weird?”
Her lips loosened.
“Maybe it’s because you’re special. People just can’t stand it when something is different, eigoo, my adorable little monster.”
Granny hugged me so tight my ribs hurt. She always called me a monster. To her, that wasn’t a bad thing.
I wanted to read this book for a while and when my dear friend Katja asked me to read it together for the #Koreadathon I immediately said yes. We picked it for the “read a book recommended by a Korean celebrity” prompt and the fact that RM as well as SUGA of BTS read it and enjoyed it was enough reason to go for it as well. I trust my boys taste in books and I’m really glad I decided to go for “Almond” because it was an intriguing read and very thought-provoking. The plot of the book is easily described: It’s about a boy named Yunjae who was born with a brain condition named alexithymia which basically means that he can’t feel emotions. The part of his brain that is responsible for our feelings (and formed like an almond, hence the book title) isn’t fully developed and that causes him to have troubles to understand human emotions. Our MCs mother and his grandmother tried their best to teach him how to cope with his lack of emotions but then one day tragedy hits and Yunjae is left to fend for himself.
”People sometimes say how cool it’d be to be fearless, but they don’t know what they’re talking about. Fear is an instinctive defense mechanism necessary for survival. Not knowing fear doesn’t mean that you’re brave; it means you’re stupid enough to stay standing on the road when a car is charging towards you.”
I had so many thoughts when I read this book and a lot of them had to do with the way Yunjae was raised. I know his mother and grandmother only had the best intentions and wanted him to blend in with everyone, but I think to some extent their constant efforts made it even more difficult for him to deal with his condition. Emotions are something you can’t learn because human feelings are very complex and some people will cry because they are happy while others will laugh even though they are sad. You might be able to explain the general reasons behind behaviour like crying but every person is an individual and we all react differently when we’re overwhelmed by our feelings. The fine nuances of emotions… well they are something you can’t learn. So even though I understood where Yunjae’s mother was coming from I still didn’t agree with her methods. It felt like Yunjae was under a lot of pressure to learn “the proper reactions” and I kinda felt sorry for him.
”Dr. Shim was right – being ordinary was the trickiest path. Everyone thinks “ordinary” is easy and all, but how many of them would actually fit into the so-called smooth road the word implied?”
Well, and then his grandma died and his mother was out of the picture as well, leaving him to fight through all the troubles on his own. Okay, almost all on his own because Dr. Shim was amazing and I loved that he helped him out! Honestly, bless his soul because he just accepted Yunjae the way he was and tried to help him as best as he could. ❤ But Dr. Shim isn’t the only one that helped him to find his way and Gon as well as Dora had an impact on the MCs character development.
”Dora. Dora was exactly the polar opposite of Gon. If Gon tried to teach me pain, guilt and agony, Dora taught me flowers and scents, breezes and dreams.”
I loved the way this was put, because it sums up their different personalities and essence so well. With Dora Yunjae discovered the soft feelings of first love and attraction and with Gon he learned about true friendship and hardships. Some might say Gon was a catalyst and I’m inclined to agree with that, but I also think that Dora’s appearance was at least as vital to Yunjae’s development as Gon’s. Both played a very important part in the MCs life and contributed to his experiences.
“About destiny and time.”
“What a surprise to hear those words from you.”
“Sheesh, did you know that even when you say the simplest things, you sound like a dick?”
“I didn’t know that.”
“Now you know.”
I really loved the bluntness between Gon and Yunjae! They took each other the way they were and they didn’t try to pretend to be someone else when they were in each other’s company. I think this might have actually been the main reason their friendship could bloom and evolve because the way they met definitely wasn’t the best start. (And that’s an understatement right there.) I’m not going to spoil anything here though. 😉 Despite being unable to feel emotions the same way other people do Yunjae was quite a wise person sometimes and could look through people’s disguises with surprising ease. I suppose you could also say that because of his disability to feel emotions he was probably more perceptive than others?
”She said families walk hand in hand. Granny would hold my other hand. I have never been abandoned by anyone. Even though my brain was a mess, what kept my soul whole was the warmth of the hands holding mine on both sides.”
I’m pretty sure it was due to this that he was able to see who Gon truly was. The way Yunjae described Gon was simple yet beautiful and I guess this is also how I would describe Won-Pyung Sohn’s writing style: Beautiful simplicity with many layers. The author never beats about the bush or hides information. It’s all there and you get exactly what you read which was a very refreshing approach and even though the conversations between the characters are pretty unexcited, they still have some sort of beauty to them. I didn’t think I’d enjoy the writing style so much but I did. =)
”I said, shut the fuck up.”
“You are not that kind of person.”
“Fuck,” he shouted, half crying. A nail on the wall must’ve pricked my leg, because it was bleeding. Gon saw and started weeping like a child. Yes, this was who he was. The kind of person who tears up at a drop of blood, who feels pain for other’s pain.
As for the ending of the book: I liked it but it almost felt too smooth? I don’t know if I’d have done anything differently but I’ve to admit that I still don’t know how I feel about it. I thought a lot about my final reaction to Yunjae’s story but all I can come up with is that the ending felt too convenient. Still, I really enjoyed “Almond” and I can recommend reading it if you want to go for something different and thought-provoking. I still think about the book and in my book this is always a good thing. 😉