Cover Image: O Beautiful

O Beautiful

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This is a melancholy book about a Korean American woman facing mid-life, embarking on a second career in journalism, and coming to terms with her fate. Elinor is a flawed character, beautiful on the outside, but overcome with self-doubt and an endless inability to connect with other people. The book is full of abuses: alcohol and drug abuse, sexual abuse, the abuse of power. It also covers society’s ills of the day such as racism, sexism, hegemony, unfaithfulness, oh my. 
The author presents a book full of problems, but only presents them. There are no problems solved, no relationships mended, no minds changed. All talk, no action.
The writer has a compelling style and will probably go on to greater works in the future. This just was not my type of literature.
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An original book that is interesting and revealing.  Elinor’s beauty and stature helped her financially--she had an early modeling career, a profession she recognized as superficial and driven by the male gaze.  Elinor returns to North Dakota where she grew up when her father was stationed there with the Air Force. Throughout her life she has felt like an outsider due to her mixed parentage, but had enjoyed a career in New York, modeling, and decided to reinvent herself as a writer, earning a degree and being given the opportunity to write an article about the changes wrought by the oil boom to her home state. A complex story begins with a victim and ends when she becomes a survivor.  This is a complicated, and multi-layered book with much to mine. The stories of all the locals she interviewed/met/came across were extremely raw and powerful. There are many well-drawn characters.  Yun covers broad themes subtly, without reducing it to topics. She lifts contrary and contradictory conundrums from the page into our lives, a universal experience, and executed without platitudes or stereotypes; Yun rules the unruly and untamed wilderness with a controlled narrative. She conveys our shortcomings with a blend of realism, idealism, and desire.

Many thanks to NetGalley, the publisher, and the author for the opportunity to read an advanced digital copy.
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I tried my hardest to like this book as it sounded so wonderful. I wound up not finishing it at about 40% through it. I did really like the main character, she felt so real and dimensional. However, I felt the story moved too slow for my liking.
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This is a well-written and thought-provoking book.  It's an interesting look at a topic I haven't really seen covered much before - the effect of oil drilling on farm land in the midwest.  It also addresses the inequity of police and public interest in missing Native American women (something which has just recently been in the news)

I enjoyed the book - but it felt a little unfinished to me.  Maybe just because I wanted to know more.  It's a worthwhile read.
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O Beautiful is a story about America – a specific part of America, but it reflects attitudes and issues found nationwide. So it’s fitting that there’s a lot going on in this novel. Maybe a bit too much at times, but it definitely held my interest. 

Elinor is a Korean-American in her early forties, previously a model, who went back to school and is now trying to carve out a career as a writer. After an affair with her professor, he volunteers her to write a story about the Bakken oil boom in North Dakota. Elinor grew up in the area, so she brings her own point of view to the story.

She’s meant to focus on the tensions between locals and outsiders (the “roughnecks” who come for oil jobs), but Elinor begins to see other stories, like tensions caused by the huge imbalance of men to women, and whether families have been cheated out of their land rights by corrupt oil corporations.  And then there’s the woman who mysteriously went missing… 

In this remote area of the country, Elinor experiences racism and sexism from many of the people she encounters. Even though she’s actually from the area, being Asian-American immediately marks her as “other” while the men also treat her as “exotic”.  I enjoyed the play of insider versus outsider in this story, and how that same theme plays out in Elinor’s academic and family life as well. I especially liked Elinor’s troubled relationships with her sister, her father, and the mother who came to this country as a bride and then abandons her family. I also appreciated Elinor’s struggles with her own appearance, from capitalizing on her attractiveness as a petite, beautiful Asian woman, to marking her body with tattoos to end her career as a model, to now struggling to be viewed as competent based on her intellect. The title seems like a comment on both the United States (its physical beauty contrasted with its ugliness) and the way women (or all people) are objectified based on their appearance.

While I very much appreciated the complexity of the story, and enjoyed seeing this part of the world through Elinor’s perspective, it also felt like too many issues were raised and then discarded.  As a journalist, Elinor seems a little like a dog chasing squirrels; she has a new story idea every day and her decision-making and work ethic leave a lot to be desired.  Is her story about violence against women?  Is it about hate crimes?  Is it about corrupt land rights? Is it about children and women disappearing on reservation land?  Is it about homelessness and the lack of economic opportunity for most blue-collar workers in the U.S.?

Most novels would tie all these disparate pieces together in some way.  For example, the woman gone missing would be part of an evil corporate plot to bury a lawsuit for poisoning the water and giving all the locals cancer. I  find books that connect every moving part unrealistic, so I appreciated that Yun didn’t go that route. I also appreciated that Elinor learns a lot over the course of this novel, about the people she’s interviewing, and about herself and how her own history is coloring her perceptions. 

It’s a dark and often haunting book, from sexual assault and harassment to racism to environmental destruction. At the same time, Elinor meets genuinely interesting people, and where she’s expecting to see one conflict (locals versus “roughnecks”) the conflicts she encounters are much more complicated.  It’s not easy to see which parties are the victims. 

As a warning, I found the conclusion disappointing, but that’s often the case for me with a novel that raises so many complicated issues. I felt it fell off abruptly with little resolution.  But then I also appreciate books that don’t end too neatly. I’d rather a book closes in a way that leaves me thinking about it, and this one did.

Note: I received a complimentary advanced review copy of this book from publisher St. Martin’s Press.  This book published November 9, 2021.
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Poignant, lyrical, fascinating. I loved being in Elinor's head. This was the perfect balance of character work and plot -- my favorite type of literary fiction. I was worried the book was going to try to tackle too many different themes and concepts, but it really wasn't an issue. There is a main focus on the racism and misogyny that Elinor faces herself while touching on other topics but not in a way that felt it was discrediting either. Really, truly loved it.
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"O Beautiful" by Jung Yun is an excellent book that exposes the dark side of the oil boom in North Dakota.  Along with increasing the wealth of some of the residents, the influx of new residents  increases tensions in the small town, between those viewed as insiders and those viewed as outsiders.  Corruption, racism, and toxic masculinity run rampant, and once again the original inhabitants of the land, the Native Americans, get left behind.  This realistic and beautifully written novel  is riveting and, at some points, chilling.  I both loathed and loved the main character, and I could completely identify with many of her experiences.  This is a very complex novel that should be read slowly and with an open mind.  I wish the ending would have been more conclusive, but unfortunately the important issues raised in this book are ongoing and no end is in sight.

Many thanks to NetGalley, the publisher, and the author for the opportunity to read an advanced digital copy of this great book in exchange for my honest review.
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Elinor, a successful N.Y. journalist returns to her childhood home state of North Dakota to cover the oil boom. She has lots of baggage and hard feelings from growing up there as the child of a Korean mother and Army father. A story of racial discrimination, social issues, etc. Also a story of the interesting process of being an investigative reporter. Kept my interest throughout.
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I’ve been patiently waiting for a new book by Jung Yun, author of Shelter, one of my favorite books from 2016. Thanks to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for the opportunity to read O Beautiful in exchange for an honest review.
Elinor’s in her 40’s and trying to start a new career as a freelance writer after years working as a catalog model. A call out of the dark from a former grad school processor (and lover) leads her back home to North Dakota in 2012 with plans to write about the Bakken oil boom.
O Beautiful is richly written and its well developed characters tell as story about a subject of which I had very little knowledge. Yet the themes that are tackled are all too familiar, even 9 years later.
It’s also a book about outsiders and insiders. There are several key outsiders: Elinor’s mother, Elinor, and workers who come to North Dakota in search of jobs. The insiders are equally complex and are the locals - people who have seen their town and lives change dramatically. Some have benefited financially and others haven’t, so there are great undercurrents of conflict.
The story of fracking and life in the fictional town of Avery (truly the modern day equivalent of The Wild Wild West) is fascinating. But, so is the opportunity to learn about Elinor’s past life and upbringing. There are several parts of the book that are disturbing and difficult to read. But, for me, this meant they more strongly drew me into the book and Elinor’s life and story. I ended the book wanting to read the article she was hired to write, but, failing that, went online and continued researching.
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I really loved this book. It's absolutely a book for our times. Women's roles in America, capitalism, sexism, and good old American greed all told in a way that keeps you turning the pages and not coming across as preaching. I love how so many Korean writers are finally getting attention here in America. This is a perfect book for bookclubs. I also recommend for people interested in Ameircan History and immigrations struugles. Thank you #netgalley #stmartinspress for the read
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Thank you NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for the opportunity to read and review this ARC of O Beautiful. I struggle to put my thoughts into words on this one. O Beautiful is not a beautiful read. In fact, it is quite an ugly story. that being said, it is a story that must be read and dissected. It is a story in the dichotomy of life... mother and non-mother, friend and foe, lover and deceiver, kindness and violence, love and hatred, us and them, together and apart, new and old, beauty and ugliness. The dichotomy that we feed into and which lives within ourselves is present at all times, but only if we stop and think can we truly see it. Read this fascinating book if you wish to think a little deeper than surface appearances. Read this book if you want to see the world though a different lens. Read this book, but prepare to be uncomfortable in its brutal honesty.
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Of all the things that spoke to me in this book, the best and rarest was a character who took a passionate position, who let her feelings and biases show, without ever slipping into propaganda.

Elinor is feeling a sort of reverse culture clash when she returns to her home state of North Dakota, to document for a major magazine the changes that were thrust upon the area with the shale oil extraction boom. She has lived for nearly two-thirds of her life in New York, and the urban-rural rift opens her eyes to the unexamined premises of her life.

First, as a former model, she made her living capitalizing on the so-called male gaze -- and in the booming Bakken oil field setting, the male-to-female ratio is so off-kilter that the worst of men's behavior is on display. Second, she is Korean-American, and many North Dakota natives blame the upheaval in their quiet lives on the multi-racial invasion that maintains the thunderous economic growth.

Sure, Elinor makes bad choices. She is not a heroine. She's a confused person trying to suss out some meaning in the life she was handed, and the one she has created. After a midlife career change to journalism, she is flailing a bit, perhaps in over her head, in a challenging assignment that seems to shape-shift with each new interview.

Another good thing about O Beautiful: There's such a good balance between action and introspection. A lot happens to Elinor, featuring a wide range of community members and their issues. We are NOT just meandering in angst inside a woman's head.

I often thought the title, which seems to refer to the opening lines of America the Beautiful, also seemed to be the cry that Elinor heard everywhere she went, often in less-than-respectful ways.

I've lived enough in the circumstances and settings facing Elinor that I can vouch for their authenticity. Jun Yung has written a book that is fully true. Thanks to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for an advance readers copy.
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It's hard to say that this book is beautiful when it's about such a difficult topic like racism, misogyny, elitism, sexism, communities growing at a rapid pace. But it's the writing. Jung Yun is a beautiful writer. 

It's a hard story, It's a hard story. But it's an American story. 

Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for the opportunity to read and review this book.
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Thank you to @stmartinspress and @netgalley for the eARC.

I liked this book but didn’t love it. This is a slower paced novel, but the writing was excellent and kept me wanting to read more. O Beautiful covers a wide range of important topics, such as sexism, race, and environmental issues - to name a few. While I was engaged enough to continue reading, a lot of the story felt disjointed, perhaps it was supposed to be, as for most of the novel Elinor is trying to decide what her angle on the article will be. However, much of what was raised throughout the book seemed to be dropped at the finish line, and with so many loose ends I felt unsatisfied.

Read this if you enjoy thought provoking, character driven novels, and don’t mind endings that don’t tie everything up in a neat bow.
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O Beautiful is a relevant book for today's society and culture. It hits heavily on themes such as sexism and misogyny, racism and otherism, sexual harrassment, white seperaritism, economics, abuse. For all that, it is still a"quiet" story, full of the narrator's observations.

I kept waiting for a big event, which never came. I do like the ambiguous, hopeful ending. O Beautiful was about the journey, not the destination.
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Although a thought provoking novel focused on important issues, it was just not for me.  There was so much going on, topics addressed, and I wanted to care, but unfortunately was unable to connect with any of it.  I wanted to feel invested, but it just didn't hold my interest.

Thank you to Jung Yun, St. Martin’s Press, Macmillan Audio, and NetGalley for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.
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So many topics covered in this books including; family disfunction, racism, white privilege, the environmental crisis, and the most important the female experience. Celebrating woman who take control and speak for themselves.
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I'm going to be the odd one out on this novel which is beautifully written but also polemic.  Elinor, a beautiful woman has gone home to North Dakota to interview various players in the economic energy boom.  There are micoaggressionsi, there are macroaggressions, there's a mentor who previously unbeknownst to her has allegedly been harassing students, there's a missing woman.  This isn't about how fracking and exploration are destroying the environment, it seems to be men,  I didn't like Elinor and this left me cold.  Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.
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Former model, current struggling freelance writer Elinor is surprised at her good fortune when her former writing professor (and former lover) Richard throws her a bone-he's going in for hip surgery and would like her to fill in for him on a story. The publication is a prestigious one, one that has the potential to make Elinor's career if she does well; and the story, well, that's the only potential catch. It's about the oil boom in North Dakota, in a once small and sleepy farming town not too far from where Elinor grew up. It's a place that doesn't hold particularly good memories because while she was a kid, it was pretty difficult being the biracial (white and Korean) daughter of a military man and a mother that most of their neighbors thought of as little more than a curiosity.

It is also the site of Elinor's greatest childhood trauma-her mother's abandonment of her father, Elinor and her sister, leaving her husband angry and her teenaged daughters alone to cope with the challenges of being among the very few non-white people for miles around. As soon as she was old enough, Elinor escaped N. Dakota for New York City where she saw limited success as a model and has since been living a modest existence, eking out a living as a writer. Richard's call, though it seems like a plum opportunity at first, begins to go south before Elinor even lands in her destination, and grows more complicated from there on out, forcing her to confront the very same thorny questions and demons she escaped so long ago, as well as some new and much more confounding ones.

This is my favorite kind of literary fiction. It was relatable, neither too lofty nor self-consciously literary, and most of all not cryptic or emotionally inaccessible. Jung Yun writes very smart fiction, that is intended to be read and understood, and felt. There was plenty to feel in this one, as it wasn't just a story about Elinor and the territory of her life, but about the physical territory she left behind and is now returning to; and about how changed it is upon her return. It is about how immense prosperity can co-exist uncomfortably with extraordinary need and deprivation; and about how under the right (or wrong) circumstances, human beings can revert to their most base selves. A fair amount of this book was educational, describing in stark detail what the black gold rush did to the land, to people, communities and their way of life; and how all of those things intersect with the already fraught issues of race, gender, and economic inequality.

I rushed through this one in a day, listening as well as reading voraciously. The narrator was flawless so I did something I very rarely do--I listened even when I could have read. Usually listening is a second choice for me, and happens only when reading a novel is impossible or impractical. But this audiobook was an exception. I will look for this narrator again. (I've only done that once before with the narrator of 'Underground Airlines' by Ben Winters)

I especially loved the character of Elinor. She was believably flawed, in the way that many of us are flawed. She believed all the "correct" things and articulated them perfectly to herself and others, even while deluding herself about how many of those same principles and beliefs applied to her own life and experience. She lied to herself a little, as we all do. That made me love and believe her, and feel empathy for her.

Excellent, thoughtful and very, very engaging work by this author. I was excited when I realized I have her debut, 'Shelter'. I won't wait too long before reading it.
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Thank you to NetGalley, St. Marten’s Press, and Jung Yun, for allowing me to read the ARC of O Beautiful, in exchange for an honest review.

When  forty-two year-old, ex-model, college graduate, Elinor, is given a chance to write an article on the oil boom in North Dakota, close to where she previously lived, she jumps at the chance to make a name for herself. As she soon finds out, this is not going to be an easy assignment. People don’t want outsiders, especially rowdy oilmen, coming to their town, making it over-crowded, dirty, and often not safe, especially for women. Being an ex-model and half-white, half-Asian, causes her a lot of unwanted attention; but, she perseveres and learns as much as she can about the oil boom, missing girls on the Indian reservation, the people who live in this town, and finally makes peace with her troubled past and discovers what she has always been looking for in her life. “Elinor isn’t certain if she’s dreaming or planning now, or whether there’s even a difference, but she sees the road ahead so clearly.”
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