Cover Image: O Beautiful

O Beautiful

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Thought provoking and well written novel about a subject that we should be concerned with  Found the character development somewhat lacking.
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There is a lot going on in O Beautiful.  Jung Yun tackles many topics including, race, gender, class, relationships, and a big oil company moving in and taking over a small town.  It is a relevant and well written book which will generate much discussion in book clubs.
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Jung Yun has written one of the most powerful books of 2021. Elinor Hanson, a Korean-American journalist, returns to her home state of North Dakota to research the effects of fracking on this remote, thinly-populated region. What she finds is a tinderbox of gender, race, power, and greed looking for a natural gas flare to ignite it, and a weighty solitude that forces Elinor to confront her own inner turmoil. As with Yun's stunning first novel, “Shelter,” "O Beautiful" gives us no easy answers. Life—and our country—is complicated, and fiction doesn’t have to be any different.
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O what a beautiful novel! Jung Yun has created a fully-breathing character in Elinor Hanson, a child of a domineering white military man and a Korean woman who walks away from the family after living a life of discrimination in America. Elinor too feels as if she has never fit in in this country. Ostracized because of her Korean ancestry while growing up in North Dakota, she then flees to New York as soon as she can where she is valued for her body both as a model, and then later as a “girlfriend” of her journalism professor/mentor who routinely preyed on female students and destroyed their lives if they failed to comply with his advances. The book begins as Elinor is returning to North Dakota to finish an article begun by her now former boyfriend/mentor on the Bakken and the effect of the oil boom on the community. She initially tries to stick to the script created by her white male professor, but over time she finds her own voice and begins asking her own questions to tell the story of her life (and the lives of all outsiders in America, where great beauty coexists with the great cruelty of racism, sexism, and exploitation). The quotes used in the epigraph perfectly describe Elinor's struggle between being Fitzgerald's "beautiful little fool," and Mary's Shelley's rage-filled Frankenstein. The trick is learning how to stay while living the contradictions. 

4.5 out of 5 stars. Highly recommended.

Thanks to Net Galley and St. Martin's press for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review of this book.
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This one is a case of the premise being so much better than the execution. The setting of natural resource acquisition and its impact on the residents of the area is timely, and the reporter-lens is engaging. The problem lies in the overt, cliche, chip-on-the-shoulder moralizing that surrounds each plot point. Whether the issue is age, gender, race, or environmentalism, the storyline is usurped by didacticism. Add in a disappearing woman mystery and parent-issue resolutions, and there is very little room for beauty in O Beautiful.

**Audio - while the narration is clear and paced well, the whispery, dramatic tone accentuates/underscores the major flaws in the text

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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Elinor is a 42 year old former model, now on her first big assignment in her brand new writing career.

I was immediately gripped by her encounter with a man on her flight, and continued to be captivated by Elinor’s conversations and choices during her time in North Dakota covering the oil boom.

This story comments heavily on two timely topics - racial prejudices in small towns, and the unacceptable ways men treat beautiful women. I loved how the lenses were always turning, and there was never one certain person at fault.

“She wonders how many of her own passing encounters have turned out like this, opportunities for connection wasted by some combination of judgment and defensiveness, insecurity and shame.”

This felt thoughtful and timely. Highly recommend to those who enjoy deep character dives.

Thank you to Net Galley and St Martin’s Press for my advanced reader copy.
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Elinor is a biracial Korean-American journalist embarking on a trip to North Dakota, the state she was raised in to write an article about the fracking boom and it effects on the environment and the population. She inherited this assignment from her former professor (also ex- lover.) She feels a lot of her career will depend on ho ell this article is received.
The book gets onto a slow and repetitive start and I was rapidly losing interest. All this preliminary to an article that I wouldn’t be very interested in reading. Things pick up when she becomes more spontaneous with the people she’s meeting. However she engages in some self destructive behavior and seems to be blowing her big chance.
Many topical issues feel squeezed into the plot for the sake of relevancy. In a way that felt heavy handed. If the topics of fracking or journalism interest you or you are from North Dakota I would give this book consideration.
I was initially interested in this book because I read and enjoyed this author’s previous work, Shelter.
If she writes another novel I would probably give it a try.

Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for this e ARC.
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I have ambivalent about this work.  The writing was wonderful.  In the beginning I didn’t particularly like it.  I didn’t like the protagonist and her self destructive, stupid actions. As the book progressed, it drew me in, though.  

Just as Elinor saw several different story lines for the article she was supposed to write, the novel itself pursued several different themes.  What they had in common was a pervasive toxicity in our society.  

And that conclusion….not very satisfying. At times, I thought the story could accomplish great insight about so much.  But in the end, it seemed it was just about Elinor.

I vacillate between three and four stars.  I guess I have to give it four for the writing, but three for my reaction to it overall.
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I am torn. I love the writing style – so vivid and engaging. But… the viewpoint character (and author?) believes all men are misogynistic and all North Dakotans are racist. As satire this might work, but it’s not written that way. The narrative is very preachy. And call me Boomer, but I can’t stand reading about characters getting high.
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For the most part, I enjoyed this book. I absolutely loved how Elinor interacted with the town of Avery, especially when she is staying in the lot in the last third of the book! I did find the first half a bit repetitive and I was not a huge fan of the ending. But overall, a solid story about race, class, gender, and small town middle America.
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In the book O, BEAUTIFUL we meet. Elinor  an aspiring writer who is trying to find her way in the world at an age where people assume you’d have your life together (the shocking age of 38 oh my) but after chasing a story back to her home state she finds herself struggling with all the issues she thought she had worked through; being bi-racial in a white red state, a woman who’s beauty often gets her unwanted attention and a novice writer trying to find her own voice. After chasing a story that was outlined for her she decides to trust her gut and follow a new path forged by her own conviction. 

I was in a reading slump for the past few weeks and this book easily got me out of it; it was well paced, well written and the story was multi layered and tackled so many current issues that felt very contemporary. 

My one note would be that the ending felt like it could’ve wrapped up some storylines clearer but maybe that was as the intention of the author. Either way I enjoyed this book very much and would readily read more about Elinors journey to self discovery.
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I received this from

"Elinor Hanson, a forty-something former model, is struggling to reinvent herself as a freelance writer when she receives an unexpected assignment."

I didn't understand the point of this .. was it the detrimental effects of the oil boom in North Dakota, or that all men are stupid, egocentric, sex maniacs that will enforce their will on any female in their view?

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Elinor Hanson, a Korean and white former model and current journalist, is passed on an assignment to write about the oil boom in her native North Dakota by a former professor she used to date. The story she is sent to write ends up being different from the story that she finds there, and much of that is informed by her identities as a biracial woman in an area that used to be largely white but is changing in demographics due to the influx of new workers. Jung Yun does a good job of highlighting the issues around racism and sexism that Elinor faces, and she also touches on quite a few other issues in mostly meaningful ways. My main confusion around the story was how there seemed to be much made of Elinor's Korean mother who leaves her family after years of being excluded on account of her "foreignness" on the Air Force base where the family lived. I kept waiting for more to be said on the topic, or for something to be revealed so that I'd finally know why that was significant to the story. But it never came, and I guess it was just supposed to say something about Elinor's family and upbringing. Somehow it didn't quite add up for me. But otherwise, this novel is relevant to our times and provides a clear look into the main character's intersectional identities.
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Not to steal from the title too much but this was such a beautiful book! It was so well written and really hits on some topics that are so important right now including racism, environmentalism, Indigenous rights and misogyny. You feel educated and entertained at the same time!
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"O Beautiful", by Jung Yun is a literary fiction novel that tells a relevant story of contemporary America. It was an infuriating read, rather than a pleasurable one for me, but an overall important story. The plot follows Elinor Hansen, a half Korean - half white woman, who returns to her childhood state of North Dakota, to write an article about how the oil boom affected life in the town of Bakken. The book covers a wide range of themes, like misogyny, overt and covert racism, strained family relations, and personal issues with identity and belonging. 
I am happy that I read this book. It portrayed a reality in contemporary America that I, luckily, very seldom come across, but that I, nonetheless, am very aware exists. The opening chapter had my skin crawling in a way that a literary fiction has not managed to before. For the most part of the book I was in a state of infuriation mixed with disbelief that took me back to a time when a car rear-ended my car at a stop light, while my husband was driving. While the police officers and paramedics were assessing the situation, a pick-up truck slowed down traffic, and a guy in his early twenties pulled himself out through the window mid-drive to yell out, “This is what happens when you let a woman drive!!!” No one except for me was phased, and everyone went about their business like usual. This book is full of these men, from the one shouting mid-driving, to the passers byes and police officers that didn’t think twice about it. The book is filled with ingrained misogyny and racism that is sadly accepted and tolerated by many. Jung Yun wrote it all masterfully. I am very interested in reading more by her. Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press or the e-arc in exchange for my honest review.
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This is the first book I have ever read by Jung Yun and I'm hooked. This was an absolutely beautifully written book that had so much going on.  It was easy to follow and it is going to stay with you, long after you are done reading it.
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I was thrilled to be approved for this book as I loved Jung Yun's debut novel, Shelter. This too did not disappoint.

The setting: "Elinor Hanson, a forty-something former [catalog] model, is struggling to reinvent herself as a freelance writer when she receives an unexpected assignment. Her mentor [also lover] from grad school offers her a chance to write for a prestigious magazine about the Bakken oil boom in North Dakota. Elinor grew up near the Bakken, raised by an overbearing father and a distant Korean mother who met and married when he was stationed overseas." Her father sought a docile Korean wife, but she abandoned her family leaving them all scarred. Her sister Maren--another story or two! Though not too geographically distant from the Bakken and now married to a farmer...

Fast forward first to New York [where she becomes a model]. Elinor is beautiful--is it likely that she got her many tattoos [sleeves] to detract attention?  Later--after graduate school and decades away from home, Elinor accepts the assignment from her professor and heads : a landscape she hardly recognizes, overrun by tens of thousands of newcomers. Surrounded by roughnecks seeking their fortunes in oil and long-time residents worried about their changing community, Elinor experiences a profound sense of alienation and grief. She rages at the unrelenting male gaze, the locals who still see her as a foreigner...:

"The longer she pursues this potentially career-altering assignment, the more her past intertwines with the story she’s trying to tell, revealing disturbing new realities that will forever change her and the way she looks at the world."

There is much to tell in the story/setting and it resonates with the current situation. To wit: fracking, racism, alienation, Native Americans and all their problems/issues, cheating [spousal], and the Me Too movement, [towards the latter part of the book] and more! Tensions and competing interests.

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.

And, a large part of the story--the mystery of Leanne Lowell, a young woman who disappears from Avery. This mystery captures Elinor's attention [Was her husband complicit? Where is she? What happened?] although she is supposed to be focusing on writing the Bakken story. 

Phew [perhaps some of it could have been reined in with a bit more judicious editing]. This book packs a wallop.

The writing--some wonderful descriptions:
"He's short and snowman-like, composed mostly of circles."

"Everything in the room is new, but cheaply made of pressboard, nylon, and polyester. It looks like a bad college dorm or a very good prison."

"quicksand of another argument"

"It's a reminder of how complicated this country is how great beauty and terrible ugliness have coexisted here from the start."

I'm not sure I liked the ending, but...

Nonetheless, recommend.
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This is a story about corruption and greed, racism and misogyny, toxic masculinity and sexism, and small towns and communities. Elinor is a writer and she returns to her hometown to write a story on the oil boom and its impact on the town. As the daughter of a Korean immigrant and an American military father, Elinor never quite felt comfortable in Bakker, North Dakota. Returning home brings up many of Elinor’s childhood issues of abuse, racism, and family drama which does a lot to explain the lenses of anger and hostility Elinor views the world and men, in particular, through. 

This story has so many layers to it and it is so beautifully written. Elinor is a tough character and not always likable but the world doesn’t always meet her halfway either. She epitomizes the struggle of being human, returning home as an adult and rising above the traumas of childhood, and claiming one’s voice. I highly recommend this book

Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with the opportunity to read and review this book.
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Thank you to Net Galley and St. Martins Press for the ARC of O Beautiful by Jung Yun. This is a 4.5 star read for me. Yun does a remarkable job of painting the environment and giving it a real grittiness. There were moments that felt more like Twitter thoughts, but they definitely resonated with me. 
We meet Elinor, who recently split up from her writer boyfriend. He offers her the chance to take over an article he’s working on. The work takes her to North Dakota, her home state, and makes her face the niggling thoughts she’s always had about race, class, misogyny, and her own family. 
This novel is beautifully written, and it’s so refreshing to read something different. We deep dive into oil fields in North Dakota which is something I’ve never read about before. I think she sums up our crazy country of the USA perfectly: “That’s probably why this land means so much to her. It’s a reminder of how complicated this country is, how great beauty and terrible ugliness have coexisted from the start.”
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O BEAUTIFUL is an incredibly haunting read - much like SHELTER, O BEAUTIFUL is a searing look at violence against women. Where O BEAUTIFUL differs is its much wider scope, covering capitalism and greed, racism, misogyny, sexism, as well as marginalized identities and communities. O BEAUTIFUL is a bold achievement by Yun and this book is, without a doubt, one of the top books I've read in 2021, one which I'll keep thinking about and going back to from time to time.

Thank you so much NetGalley and St. Martins Press for the ARC.

A full-length review will be posted on Instagram [@movedbyprose] on November 9, 2021. For notification purposes, I will tag St. Martins Press in the review and forward you the link via email upon posting the review.
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