The wildest part about living through an attempted despotic takeover of one’s country is how normal it feels as it’s happening. Like there’s the in your face fascism and consistent erosion of civil liberties, but there’s also still Instagram, and The Mandelorian, and Pumpkin Spice Mac and Cheese; sure everything is terrible, but it is what it is, right? I think that’s part of why books like Banned Book Club hit home so much. They function as touchstones for how to navigate times like the current one we are facing, while reminding us that this fight is not new and it is never over.
If you haven’t read this stunning graphic novel, Banned Book Club tells the true story of Kim Hyun Sook’s time in college during South Korea’s Fifth Republic, a totalitarian regime known for anti-intellectualism and anti-democratic attitudes. It’s 1983, and all Hyun Sook wants to do is normal college student stuff: study Western Literature, make a few new college friends, and maybe…join an underground banned book club? Hyun Sook soon finds herself joining her fellow classmates as they confront censorship, torture and the murder of protestors, all while maintaining their lives as college students.
Beyond being an especially timely (and timeless) read, Banned Book Club is also well crafted, and dare I say, entertaining. While the art of Ko Hyung-Ju perfectly captures the energy and frenetic youth of the idealistic students, it’s the writing that really hits home here, not to mention the fact that this is a true story. The writing team of Kim and Ryan Estrada (Poorcraft, Aki Alliance) balance the often harrowing real life experiences of Kim and her friends with genuinely funny moments. Again, I think this is the most striking part of the story for me. There’s this constant refrain of literature and art as forms of protest, but throughout the text there’s this insistence that the very act of living freely and persisting are protests in and of themselves. In short, there are no aspects of life that are apolitical.
It’s this last bit that really sticks with me. As I write this, the 2020 Presidential Election is right around the corner, and along with anxiety and uncertainty of our political futures, we are also grappling with the very real threat of the pandemic. Every move we make is a conscious decision to push for the future we hope to see. I definitely recommend this text for classrooms, especially because the very act of education is a political act. This text will not only engage students with its manga style, but it’s rich with meaning and information. I can only imagine the conversations this comic could lead to.
I can’t recommend this book enough. It has all the things I would look for in a classroom text, and could really encourage some thoughtful work from students. Also, since we ELA teachers are always looking for engaging non-fiction texts, this definitely scratches that itch.
This is another easy 10/10. Get your own copy here!