Cover Image: The Forest of Stolen Girls

The Forest of Stolen Girls

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Min Hwani is compelled to return to her home village when her father goes missing while investigating the disappearance of 13 local girls. No one seems to be taking his disappearance seriously, so it falls to Hwani to find out what really happened. Could this be related to a time in her youth where she and her sister woke up in the forest next to a dead body? And what’s with the mysterious figure hidden behind a stark white mask and lurking in the forest where so many of the girls went missing from? In The Forest of Stolen Girls, June Hur transports us to 1426 Joseon (Korea) to answer these questions. 

I found the writing to be very atmospheric, with rich descriptions and vivid details that made it easy to picture the landscape of the story. I felt like I could really “see” 1426 Jeju Island, which is a real feat, as one of the main things I struggle with in historical fiction is being fully immersed in the story. A lot of the time when reading from a different time period, it feels like I’m reading a text book, and I don’t feel invested in what’s going on. I didn’t have that problem here. There were instances where I had to go google different terms to get a better idea of what was going on, but that’s to be expected when reading from a time period and culture not my own. I honestly liked that Hur didn’t feel the need to cater to a western audience by describing every little thing. 

Our protagonists, Hwani and Maewol, are the perfect example of Hur’s brilliant character work. Hwani is driven by facts, with a very analytical thought process and a disdain for the spiritual world. Maewol, on the other hand, is more wild and unrestrained, a firm believer in the spiritual realm and ruled by her fierce, deep emotions. Though the sisters are incredibly different, both are great representations of how multi-faceted female (and feminist) characters can be. Their varied flaws and strengths made both sisters feel like fully fleshed out, “real” people, rather than just words on the page. The side-characters weren’t as distinct as I would have liked, and felt at times like an after-thought. But this didn’t impact my enjoyment of the story too much, as it was clearly meant to focus more on the sisters and their conflicting feelings for each other. 

As far as the actual mystery aspects of the book go, I thought there was a good mixture of predictability and surprise. Hur does one of my favorite things in mystery books, where you’re given enough information to guess one twist, then focus so much on that part of the plot that you miss all the other work that’s being done to lead up to the truly surprising moments. It takes an author of some skill to pull off that slight of hand, and when I got to the end and saw how intricately plotted everything was, I was impressed. The main reason this didn’t get a 5-star was because I just wasn’t fully satisfied with what the twists actually ended up being. Some of the answers felt a bit over the top and unrealistic, which really pulled me out of a book that I had previously found to be so immersive and engrossing. Additionally, something kept happening to the sisters over and over that - when first depicted - was scary and disturbing, but became almost comical when it happened over and over again. 

Oh, and a quick final note: some of the scenes were pretty dang scary! I read a decent amount of horror, and it takes a lot to really spook me. But the scenes in the forest with the masked figure chasing after the girls got me! So, mad props to the author for that. 

Overall, I really enjoyed The Forest of Stolen Girls and feel like June Hur beautifully accomplished what she set out to do with this novel. I’ll absolutely be picking up her next release, and would encourage you to do so as well. 

Content warnings: kidnapping, confinement, assault, violence, poisoning, suicide, death, murder, child trafficking. 

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher, Macmillan/Feiwel and Friends, for sending me this book in exchange for an honest and fair review.
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June Hur is a phenomenal writer and I am excited to add The Forest of Stolen Girls to the library collection. The mystery was beautifully plotted and kept me guessing until the end. I loved the setting of Joseon Korea(in the 1400s), it made me want to read more books set in this place and time. The book also had me googling pictures of Jeju Island, gorgeous.

The part I loved most was the relationship between Hwani and Maewol. There is a lot of hurt between the sisters, as each of them sees events differently. But as the book progresses, you see how much they mean to each other and how much they are willing to sacrifice to keep the other safe. I loved how their relationship developed. Sisters!!

I can't wait for more books by Jane Hur!
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Thoughts and Themes: This book has a very slow pace to it and it never really does pick up, that being said the pacing doesn’t take away from the story. I really enjoy the slow pacing of this story because it gives you time to think about all the revelations that occur as you read. This isn’t one that I would’ve picked up normally because of the fact that it is classified as historical but I am so glad that I read it. I really enjoyed a lot about this story.

I really enjoyed the way that the story was built and how you are right there with both of the sisters as they go on this search for the truth. I thought the way that this book was written allowed you to feel the suspense building up and also try and solve the case with them.

As I was reading this I kept forgetting that this was historical and written in a different time period. I thought that the time period was captured well in all the small aspects that were included as well as the back story of different people. I really liked learning about the different people involved in the case and the people that the two girls were interrogating.

Characters: This story is a lot more plot driven than character driven so I feel that we don’t get to know much about our characters. What I did like about this book is the relationships that we see between Maewol and Hwani, along with the relationship they each had with their father. I really liked watching as they learned about each other and reading as Hwani learned about her father. I thought it was good to see those relationships change and also watch the relationships that Maewol has developed with others as a result of the absence of her family.

Writing Style: This story is told through the perspective of Hwani which I thought was great. I think if the story had included any other perspectives things may have been muddied. I liked that we were watching everything unfold through Hwani’s viewpoint as she was a visitor to this place. I thought it was good that she didn’t have close ties to anyone there besides her father, and even her relationship with her sister was estranged.
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This is the story of two sisters lost in the woods as children, but they don’t remember what happened. They just remember their father rescuing them.

Years later their father has disappeared, along w several girls from their remote village and it’s up to these young women to work together to solve the mystery. It takes place in 1400’s Korea, but it was cool to read about how similar detective techniques were even so long ago.
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I was at the edge of my seat with this book! This is a wonderful book of history, sorrow, and fear. I loved the writing style, I was hooked! I also really love the way heritage plays a part in this story, and I felt the intensity of it's roots.
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June Hur's lilting prose brought Joseon-era Korea to life. With the elements of mystery and suspense incorporated into the story, as well as the immersive surrounding, I was transported straight into the story. The vivid storytelling really helped me visualize everything going on, and honestly, I would recommend this book for it's setting, and strong historical context alone. However, the whole aspect of mystery and suspense in the story also just plays out so well. We get to see little glimpses of who may be responsible behind everything, without being given enough of a chance to actually guess, or predict it completely, which is something I found so interesting. Hur was also able to convey the complexity of sibling relationships, and how no matter what comes, at the end of the day, you'll also love them the most, and they're your family.
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ahhh I'm so glad I picked this one up!! It was exactly what I needed.

June has such a great writing style. It flows so well and makes her books very quick reads for me. And I love the combination of historical fiction and mystery. 

This book kept me on the edge of my seat. I was a bit freaked out. Forests scare me now. I am terrified I might bump into a man with a creepy white mask. But it is fine. I'm a huge scaredy-cat. It's fun sometimes to read books that scare you. It means the author did a good job.

The one thing I found super interesting in this book was how the women of Jeju are the breadwinners of the family. The men stay home and take care of the children while the women work, travel, and make money. Also the haenyeo divers are awesome.

Highly recommend if you're looking for a book that'll keep you invested from page one, and you're also looking for some historical fiction. I love learning about time periods that were never covered in school, and knowing barely anything about east Asian history, it's nice to get a glimpse into this time period.
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The Forest of Stolen Girls is the first book that I've read from author June Hur; I confess, I hadn't heard of her debut novel before receiving this one, but now I'm curious to go back and read that one as well. Her writing style borders on purple at times, but is so lyrical and descriptive and immersive that I can forgive the occasional overly-flowery passage here and there. This delicate writing style lends itself so well to the backdrop of a historical fiction mystery narrative too; it feels comfortably old-fashioned and cosy, yet still lends itself so well to the intricacies of weaving together a puzzle for the reader to unravel.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the mystery presented to us as readers, I did have a couple of qualms with the book that I feel need to be mentioned. First of all, I had a little bit of trouble personally figuring out the ages of our two sisters, Maewol and Hwani. In the first third or so of the book, it was actually quite distracting for me. I kept trying to piece together the timeline in my head based on what we knew (for example, that the Forest Incident was 5 years ago, that Maewol was 10 when she was left with the Shaman, etc.). I don't believe it's actually until either the final chapter or the epilogue of the book that Hwani blatantly says she's 18, almost 19. I'd figured that out eventually along the way, but I would have preferred it be noted outright earlier on, purely because it was distracting to me to try to figure it out as I read.

I feel the need to also touch on the fact that there are some lingering formatting and typos throughout the story as well, and that they especially pick up in the second half of the text. (For a couple of examples, the misspelling of "Whhy?" instead of "Why?" shows up a couple of times, clock instead of cloak, odd spaces before periods at the end of sentences, and one instance at least of a sentence that just ends abruptly unfinished mid-sentence.) I recognize that this is an arc, however, so I hope those have been corrected in the finalized version of the text. The story is so engaging and well-written that I wouldn't want small issues like that to be to its detriment.

Returning to the actual meat of the story, though - I feel like it honestly is so well done. I found it hard to put the book down; it's an incredibly fast read, but very well paced. Hwani's and Maewol's investigation feels genuine. We see them discovering more and more clues along the way, ultimately changing who they think could possibly be behind the disappearances of both the girls and their father. To me, none of this felt rushed, but rather unfolded in a very natural way, all the while strengthening the bond between these two previously-estranged sisters.

Ultimately, Maewol and Hwani must learn to lean on each other and trust each other throughout this book, while wrestling with the fact that they had very different upbringings and different perceptions of their father (that lead to their initial wariness and distrust of each other when they first reunite). And in the end, that's what this book was about and where it really shines: It's a tale of two sisters, learning fresh who the other is, realizing that all they have is each other, and coming to accept that and even nurture that newly reformed bond. It was a beautiful relationship to see blossom.
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This is the second book I have read by Hur, and I am thrilled to say it's another winner for me. I really enjoy her focus on Joseon-era Korea and, particularly, her focus on strong female characters. This whole book, really, is centered around women and I enjoyed seeing the many ways that these women interact with each other and handle their circumstances.

I really love the main character, Hwani. She is insightful, but she still, like every human, has faults and can make mistakes. Her determination to solve her father's disappearance and, subsequently, the fate of the missing 13 girls, is inspiring. I also enjoyed seeing her slowly come to terms with her father's flaws and getting to know her sister better. Their relationship is one of the most interesting elements of the book and I was drawn to their characters because of it.

The mystery is also very strong. I like that Hur kept multiple elements at play throughout the book - the fate of the sisters' father, the fate of the missing girls, and the mystery of the village people, who each offer possible motives for the disappearances. I was kept guessing until the end, and I like how the solving of the crime(s) is believable. The ending is very satisfying without feeling like Hur wraps everything up perfectly into a neat package. 

I would definitely recommend this book, particularly to historical-fiction and mystery lovers. The characters are interesting and complex, the story is full of historical elements that are explained well, and the mystery is gripping.
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Lyrical prose and a haunting storyline. These are the things I loved in June Hur's debut, The Silence of Bones. And these are also the things I loved in The Forest of Stolen Girls. It's a beautiful story of sisters, and women with agency at a time when that wasn't given to them freely, at its core, wrapped in this shroud of melancholy that I've only ever read from this author.
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5/5 stars 

This book was incredible. I enjoyed every aspect of it, and thoroughly devoured the story. 

Let's start with the characters. I loved that each character had their own flaws that were very visible. They all seemed like real people, not just caricatures. 

Moving onto the setting, which I also loved. I was a bit worried I would be overwhelmed with the fact this was a historical fiction mystery, but I wasn't at all. The setting was so rich, and the book wouldn't have been the same without it. 

Next- the plot. Something else I thought was just perfect. The plot was captivating, and had me guessing along with Hwani who the masked man was. I felt the plot twists were executed nicely and were surprising. The pacing was also great. 

One final thing that I think really pushed this to be a 5 star read for me, instead of a 4 star read, was the themes brought up in this novel. It speaks a lot of what defines the limits between good and evil, and how people perceive other differently. 

Overall, this was an incredible read and I most likely will be rereading it and recommending it to all of my friends who like mysteries and historical fiction. 

*thank you so much to the publisher and netgalley for the arc in exchange for an honest review*
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I just want to say that I love love love June’s writing. The settings of her books are always characters of their own. From the moment you start reading The Forest of Stolen Girls, the atmosphere captures your attention. With this story, June focuses on Jeju Island, South Korea, which, at the time of the story, was a penal colony.

When I started reading, I could physically feel the heaviness about the space and the cloud that surrounded Hwani as she embarked on the journey of finding what really happened to her father, Korea’s most famous detective. Since I tend to think a lot in images and colors, all I could picture was gray.

At its heart, The Forest of Stolen Girls is a story about fathers, daughters, and sisters. I truly loved this investigation about fathers, a study that occurred alongside Hwani and Maewol’s search for their father and the stories of the 13 girls who disappeared into the forest. 

Hwani (and Maewol) also visibly fought against the traditional roles of women that had been assigned to them long before they were born. They also are flawed characters, but readers can’t help but stick with their story and take another look at their sister relationship.

I highly recommend reading the historical note at the end of the book, as it is a really interesting read and adds more context to TFoSG. 

Conclusion: recommend! If you love gripping atmospheric stories, mysteries, historical fiction, and are interested in Joseon Korea, then definitely check out The Forest of Stolen Girls!
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I have been waiting for June Hur to write another Korean historical mystery since I fell in love with The Silence of Bones.  Set in 1400’s Korea when girls had no freedom, Hur has again been able to write a novel with a strong, intelligent female protagonist.  18-year-old Min Hwani leaves the mainland for the island of Jeju. She reunites with an estranged sister in hopes of finding their father and 13 missing girls. He was investigating their disappearance when he disappeared.  Hur is successful, not only in creating a believable mystery but in creating the world of 15th century Korea and in creating multi-dimensional characters.  Its well-plotted with a satisfying ending.
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I haven’t had the pleasure to read June Hur’s first book and this second book blew my mind! The way she tells a story of a missing father, 2 broken sisters and 13 missing girls - lyrical, mysteriously and haunting beautiful. She took historical elements from Korean history and woven a painful story of lost, self realization and forgiveness. I love this book with my whole heart and soul.
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3.5 stars 

_The Forest of Stolen Girls_ focuses on two sisters and their missing father, and the setting is both enchanting and sinister. Like all good examples of historical fiction, the senses of time and place are highlights here, and I especially enjoyed learning about something new in this regard. 

While the sibling and father/daughter relationships and underlying and explicit empowerment aspects really work for me here, I found the pacing a bit slow at times. I would have enjoyed a stronger match between the suspense and the movement. 

Overall, this is a fascinating setting, and the intriguing concept kept me reading. Fans of historical YA fiction and/or those interested in learning more about this period through a fictionalized account will enjoy.
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I really like the idea of this novel, especially the time period and the setting. I liked the descriptions and historical/ cultural references. It was especially refreshing to have an option that broke from the mould of Sherlock Holmes. I immediately think of him when I imagine historical mysteries, so a female detective in Korea. Not only does it solve a mystery, it also examines familial ties. It's a good starter book for YA historical mysteries.
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This book was absolutely fantastic. I've already added it to our library collection on preorder and will recommend it to students.
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3.5 stars
THE FOREST OF STOLEN GIRLS is an incredible story of the search for justice and the importance of sisterhood. I didn't know much going into the book, so I'd just recommend knowing it's set in 1400s Korea following two sisters on the hunt for a murderer and kidnapper. I was a little confused in the beginning because I didn't know the context of the setting, but over the course of the story the time period and location really fleshes itself out and is really fun to follow (even though it's not supposed to be a fun book, but ya know). I loved the relationship between our two main characters; their bond is strained but being able to see it grow over the course of the story was an element I didn't expect but ended up loving. The mystery aspect was also really done well. Mysteries usually aren't my thing and I don't typically follow the storylines and clues easily, though this one was elaborate but simple to understand, and based on practices that truly did happen in this time period. I felt rooted in the setting and really enjoyed discovering the clues along with the sisters and I had no idea who the bad guy was until it was revealed (but we've established I'm not good at guessing so this isn't really saying much, haha). I have no critiques, I just tend not to derive as much enjoyment out of mysteries as other books, which is the reason for my rating, but I did enjoy reading this! If you're looking for an easy to read, quick mystery with more to it than just the clues, this is definitely the book for you
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I really enjoyed The Forest of Stolen Girls by June Hur. It's really well-written and compelling. I found the setting so interesting and one that you don't often read. I was so intrigued by the sisters' relationship and the main mystery. I will definitely recommend this one. Really great read.
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There were so many things I really liked about this book. The case of the missing girls was obviously the major plot point of the story but there was so much more to it. What I’d like to clear up that the summary doesn’t really is that the incident of the sisters going missing between the current events was 5 years. The story takes place a year after Hwani’s father is missing with her returning to her village. Hwani runs away from her Aunt to investigate her father’s disappearance by looking into the cases of the thirteen missing girls because she feels like it will lead her to the answer of what happened to her father. The events of this story play out so well. A little bit of clues are dropped as Hwani furthers her investigation without ever revealing too much. I don’t know if it’s because I love thrillers so much but I figured out who it was about halfway through the story. However, this did not dampen my experience with the novel at all. It was interesting to see Hwani discover all the clues and unravel this mystery with the help of her sister, Maewol. Besides the mystery itself, Hwani and Maewol’s relationship is what also drove this story for me.

The book follows Hwani’s point of view in which it’s obvious that all she ever wanted was her father’s approval. In fact, she states it many times that is what she wants for her life, to make her father proud. After the incident in which her and her sister disappear, Maewol is actually left behind in the village with a shaman who took her in and raised her. Hwani doesn’t remember much about that time when they were lost in the forest and her memories resurface as the story unfolds. This is crucial in the investigation, but also in restoring her relationship with Maewol. I absolutely loved how the sister’s relationship is intertwined into this story. Hwani was all set on doing this by herself but Maewol refused to not be involved. One of the reasons I really liked their story is because it shows that no matter what happened between these sisters, they are family to each other. Even without speaking with each other for five years, they learn how to rely upon each other as they did when they were little. So even though this was a mystery story, the family dynamic was a huge part of this story as well. Hwani did some stupid things but it really made her character more believable at that point. While she may have read and studied her father, she never had formal training as a detective and some of her actions prove it. If she would have flawlessly solved this case, I don’t think the ending would have been as satisfying. And even though they still technically “won”, the loss that they endured hit them hard also.

FINAL THOUGHTS
Overall, The Forest of Stolen Girls by June Hur was absolutely amazing. I devoured this book so quickly because I wanted to know what was happening. The beginning maybe slower for some people, I enjoyed learning about the past and the development between the sisters. And as the clues began to drop more and more, the importance of solving this case took precedence. There were so many different driving factors in this book that just blended so well together. While the setting itself was somber due to what was happening, I loved the world that was created and the details that Hur put into this book. I highly recommend this book if you enjoy historical mystery with a huge family dynamic subplot.
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