My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Title: The Last Story of Mina Lee
Author: Nancy Jooyoun Kim
Format: eBook (NetGalley)
Publication Date: 9/1/20
Publisher: Park Row
Categories: Adult Fiction, Contemporary, Mother/Daughter Relationship, Korean Culture, Mystery, Family, Grief, Immigration, Identity
Disclaimer: **I received this book free from the Publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.**
Margot Lee’s mother, Mina, isn’t returning her calls. It’s a mystery to twenty-six-year-old Margot, until she visits her childhood apartment in Koreatown, LA, and finds that her mother has suspiciously died. The discovery sends Margot digging through the past, unraveling the tenuous invisible strings that held together her single mother’s life as a Korean War orphan and an undocumented immigrant, only to realize how little she truly knew about her mother.
Interwoven with Margot’s present-day search is Mina’s story of her first year in Los Angeles as she navigates the promises and perils of the American myth of reinvention. While she’s barely earning a living by stocking shelves at a Korean grocery store, the last thing Mina ever expects is to fall in love. But that love story sets in motion a series of events that have consequences for years to come, leading up to the truth of what happened the night of her death.
Told through the intimate lens of a mother and daughter who have struggled all their lives to understand each other, The Last Story of Mina Lee is a powerful and exquisitely woven debut novel that explores identity, family, secrets, and what it truly means to belong.
Thank you to Park Row and NetGalley for giving me a chance to read this eARC.
Now let’s break it down!
My Attention: it had my attention
World Building: Koreatown, Los Angeles
Writing Style: beautiful, lyrical writing
Bringing the Heat: none
Crazy in Love: not a romance story
Creativity: I don’t usually enjoy flashbacks in a story, but it worked so well in this particular story as we see both journey of mom and daughter
Mood: broken hearted
Triggers: grief, suicidal thoughts/attempts, depression, death, mentions of abuse, harassment, deportation
My Takeaway: Everyone has a past – some stories we just don’t know until we dig for the truth. Also sometimes love looks different to people.
- This is an introspective tale about a mother and daughter whose relationship isn’t close. It’s tense, and there are so many differences separating them. This is a painful story…you can feel the despair and loneliness that Mina Lee feels all her life from the moment she is separated from her parents. Mina has lived with trauma all her life and it has affected her and her daughter. Imagine, not having family? ☹️
- This story goes deep. It’s not a happy story at all. It is heartbreaking – it doesn’t shy away from Mina’s suicidal thoughts. Mina experiences so much loss and struggle, her story broke my heart over and over. And then her daughter Margot who just wanted to be away from her…I could feel her struggle to love her daughter and yet not know how to love her the way Margot wanted her to. There is no bridge between them while Mina is alive. It’s only after her death that Margot starts to piece things together and heal as she faces the truths about her life and her mother.
- Usually mystery stories don’t hold my attention, because it’s a slow build but in this story Mina’s life intrigued me since she was so private about her past.
- The story touches on the struggle of immigrants, documented or not, as they assimilate in America. In this instance Mina and Margot make their life in Koreatown – Los Angeles, California. I love how the author brings issues of the Korean American experience to the surface. My parents are Filipino immigrants and in that sense I could relate to the story a lot. When the author touches on the language barriers, the job opportunities, the American “dream” and what it looks like for different people, it really resonated with me and made me think of my own parents. Do immigrants truly ever feel like they belong here?
- The writing is beautiful. I was highlighting sentences like crazy.
- This is a slow unfolding story – don’t go into it thinking it’s a fast paced story. The mystery of how Margot’s mom dies is why Margot starts digging yet she can only get the version the few people who knew Mina could tell her. And seriously, only one person knew Mina, Mrs. Baek and even then, she didn’t know Mina fully! Mina was secretive, because she didn’t want to love people and lose them again.
- Margot has one friend, Miguel, who helps her out in Los Angeles, but though they seem close – even that relationship seems somewhat superficial. He’s there for her but Margot doesn’t seem to let people get super close to her as well. I’m glad she wasn’t totally alone, because that would have been even more tragic.
- Mina’s lost everyone and then she dies? When the mystery is solved I felt like it was so unfair! How realistic was the conclusion though? I think that part threw me off a little. I did like Margot’s journey to the truth though, that’s the most important thing.
This story pummeled me in the heart. I found myself agreeing with Margot so many times because I grew up with immigrant parents as well. Mina’s story is absolutely heartbreaking and I wish so much she had a happier ending but real life is not like that. At least Margot has a chance to change things in her life and to heal. This is a moving, heartbreaking, eye-opening Own Voices story about the strained relationship between a mother and daughter as well as the search for identity.
Read an EXCERPT here: https://pastmidnight.home.blog/?p=5209