Review by Rachel Jung
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, June 2019
448 pages, hardcover, $18.99 CAD, ISBN: 978-1984812346
Ages 12+, Grades 7-9
Young Adult, Action/Adventure, Fantasy, Romance
Shadows danced in her vision, dark shapes that twisted and turned.
“What are you?” she shouted.
The shadows converged, becoming columns of smoke filled with faces. A tornado of spirits, all the men whose lives had been taken by Miyoung.
They accused her with their eyes. Their gaping mouths emitting a chorus of screams.
The ghosts of her past had finally broken free from her mind and swirled around her. Was this her punishment for living through death? She covered her ears with her hands to drown out the warbling sound of their voices. And when that didn’t work, she ran.
Imagine a small, fragile bead the size of your fist that contains your entire life energy (gi). Now, imagine that one day, its existence only becomes known to you after a messy interaction with a monster ejects it from your body and into the hands of a stranger. This is precisely the situation that Gu Miyoung, a half-human half-gumiho (nine-tailed fox) finds herself in. It is also the moment when Miyoung meets Jihoon, a charming human boy who has his first real encounter with the supernatural when he becomes entangled in Miyoung’s life.
Miyoung and Jihoon’s journey throughout present-day Seoul is reminiscent of the romantic Korean dramas Miyoung loves watching. However, the romance subplot is secondary to the storyline that revolves around Miyoung’s hunt for her fox bead, which is a vital part of her gumiho identity that prevents her gi from depleting further.
Author Kat Cho gracefully integrates Korean mythology and culture with contemporary elements through the portrayal of mythological beings that walk among ordinary mortals, disguised as humans themselves. It is through the setting that the story becomes alive: Miyoung visits popular tourist destinations like Namsan Tower and Han River, urban locations which are intermingled with Korean folklore. And Cho skillfully shows that the mythological beings are ever-present: they casually enter brightly lit convenience stores that sell soju and make deals with money-hungry Dokkaebi (goblins) in shady alleys.
The relationship between the parental figures and the two main characters is arguably the most powerful aspect of Wicked Fox. Despite their differences, Miyoung’s strained relationship with her distant mother and Jihoon’s bottomless love for his selfless grandmother both demonstrate a profound understanding of Korean children’s familial duties to their parental figures. These relationships present the characters with new challenges when they must navigate through life without relying on their suddenly absent parental figures.
Cho’s writing style is best described as short, sudden bursts of action that occur within steady pacing. This contributes to the deep connection the reader builds with Miyoung, who changes from a cold, unapproachable character into a girl who is beginning to express her emotions and feelings outwardly.
Amidst Miyoung’s compelling character development, the plot does become slightly confusing, because the ultimate antagonist does not have a strong presence throughout the book. However, the resolution is sorrowful and elegantly written, as Miyoung calls out to her mother as “Eomma,” (mother) for the first time, instead of using her name, Yena. But the final antagonist fades into the background.
Readers of Percy Jackson will enjoy the mythological aspects of Wicked Fox. Miyoung is half-human half-gumiho, similar to the way Percy is a demigod, and both characters find themselves caught between two worlds that dramatically affect their identity. However, Wicked Fox is unique in its depiction of Korean mythical creatures as people who disguise themselves as human beings.
Wicked Fox is a story that I wish I were able to read as a teenager who felt disconnected from Korean culture. It has the perfect number of heart-wrenching moments that draw tears, characters that the reader grows with, and provides an exciting introduction to Korean culture to readers unfamiliar with the culture.
Rachel Jung is a fourth-year Korean Canadian undergraduate student majoring in History and minoring in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia. She enjoys writing and playing relaxing games like Stardew Valley in her free time!