Cover Image: O Beautiful

O Beautiful

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Member Reviews

To me, O Beautiful was a deeply relatable commentary on society. 

There is an eerie undercurrent of fear threading in and out of the story (or was that just me?) - nothing is wrong yet, but everything could go wrong in a split second, and you’ll identify with it if you’ve ever walked alone down an empty street in the dark. To be able to capture this with words on paper? I marvel at the skill. 

The story explores the vast gap between Elinor wanting to be treated as an equal and having to navigate systems that are solidly patriarchal (have to play the game to be able to beat them at it, and all that). 

People might be divided on how they feel about the main character’s choices, but at the end of the day, I think she’s a pretty strong woman who might not always do the right things, but has good intentions and tries. In my book, that counts, trying counts. After all, we’re a complex mix of our environments and lived experiences.  

The commentary on toxic masculinity is interesting (not new, but the sheer audacity of some never ceases to surprise) - the men in this book say (and do) all kinds of toxic shit, both knowingly and unknowingly. Definitely a mirror held to small town society.  

As the eldest of three, Elinor’s sister’s life path spoke to me. Younger siblings have the privilege of being able to experiment, of running away from a bad situation. But, especially in Asian cultures, older sisters have to stand and fight, whether they like it or not and be happy with the choices that are made for them. If they dare make other choices, they’ll have to deal with both the judgment that is directed at them for “not doing the right thing” and their own self-loathing for picking themselves (over other things) that one time. 

Something that struck me - Elinor gets kicked out of the motel, only one of the times that her frustration at being punished for something a man wouldn’t be, is palpable. She’s even polite about what she says, but that still doesn’t do her any good. It speaks to the culture where it’s ingrained in us to pit women against other women and lash out at anyone who dares point out our insecurities. Offence is apparently the best form of defense? 

Another review of the book uses ‘nimble’ to describe the writing style and that’s as accurate as it gets. The author tells the story of Elinor nimbly, telling us almost nothing but showing us quite a lot. 

As a BIPOC woman, I felt Elinor on a bone-deep level. I understand the feeling that comes with being a minority in almost every room that you walk into - it’s easy to stand your ground in the light of day, but taking on anything out of the ordinary - like an assignment that might launch your career but takes you to small towns where you’re still a ‘novelty’ - has you feeling vulnerable in all kinds of ways. Also, the fact that she acknowledges and consciously decides to shed her pretty privilege speaks volumes.

The book’s ending caught me off guard though - I wanted more of a resolution, for at least some threads to be tied up. It did detract from my reading experience but then again, it's also only personal preference that I don’t like open endings.  

I’m happy to have found Jung Yun as an author via both Shelter and O Beautiful - they have a writing voice I really appreciate and the stories they’re choosing to tell resonate with me on so many levels. I look forward to reading more from them and also to getting more people to read both these books.  

Thanks to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for the ARC. Opinions stated are my own.
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I would give this work 4 1/2 stars...

Jung Yun does it again with this fantastic work about a Korean-American former model who wants to change careers to become a freelance writer.  Elinor Hanson is sent out to write a feature concerning oil workers in her former place of residence, the Bakken in North Dakota; and, there she is looked at as an outsider (a foreigner) even though her roots are in that area of the country.  We are taking the journey with her, so we feel as if we are journalists as well, pounding the pavement and learning about the exploited masses working the land for the sweet crude that flows underneath it, as well as how women of color, Asian-Americans, and Native Americans are (mis)treated in a land rich with resources and the promise of possibilities.  Underlying the work is the knowledge that a young woman went missing sometime prior to Elinor's arrival and no one seems to acknowledge or care that it happened; no one wants to talk in-depth about it, which frustrates and angers our concerned protagonist throughout the text.

Admittedly, O Beautiful is not as strong as 2016's Shelter (a true masterpiece), but this work is quite wonderful...with the exception of one over-long scene in a bar where Elinor is metaphorically and literally trapped by the townspeople, this is a must read!
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In a deceptively simple narrative, Jung Yun encapsulates the present complexities facing our country at this moment in time and the land, people and practices that have shaped how we got here. Yun's gift is a story so human and so personal that it evokes a perfect slice of the ever-shifting recipe of American pie. 

Elinor Hanson was a highly relatable main character--a woman who grew up as an outsider in her largely homogenous community of North Dakota. The child of a Korean immigrant and a military vet, Hanson never quite felt at home in the place from whence she was born. Attempting to restart her life as a journalist after a somewhat successful modeling career, Elinor is returning to her hometown to report on the oil boom and its effect on the local community and environment. As she makes her way through interviews and interactions with her former community members, Elinor finds she can no longer escape her demons--abuse; abandonment; sexual assault; racism; family tension...all of which bubble up as the ground begins to shake. 

The question at the center of this novel seems to be, "Will she speak up and how will she make this story, this life, her own?"

Read on, and perhaps you will find out...

Publication Date: Nov 9, 2021

Thank you to NetGalley & St. Martin's Press for the ARC in exchange for an unbiased review.
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This book is difficult for me to review, not because it is poorly written, it is, but it appears to stereotype several groups of people, for example, white people as mostly racist, leathernecks as vile and crude individuals, all men as chauvinistic, and all immigrants as oppressed!  The main character is supposedly an aspiring journalist, given an assignment, to write a story about a small town affected by an oil boom.   The author portrays the main character, Elinor, as a child of an immigrant parent of color, with a chip on her shoulder, selfish, and as an extreme feminist who hates and distrust all men!  Elinor, seems to struggle with her own insecurities, more than of focusing on investigating what are the issues facing this small town due to its sudden economic growth.  Clearly, there is racism, bigotry and gender discrimination in our society, but, author seems to dwell on this instead of projecting, “yes, there is a problem, but not all whites are racist and not all men have such a demeaning attitude toward women, but, there IS good in people, if one takes the time to really look beyond their own attitudes  and insecurities.”  The main character is portrayed as a perpetual victim, and, also, comes across as bigoted to particular groups and gender herself!  One could describe her as having a chip on her shoulder, being snobbish, and anti-men. What was the outcome of her assignment?  Don’t know!  The positive note is at the end of the book, where the main character, Elinor, seems to see beauty in her world (and her hometown) despite of her perceived victimhood and recent experiences.  Maybe this is the theme all along, but, how does the town cope with all the changes facing its residents???
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Well-written and evocative, Jung Yun does a fantastic job of setting the scene for the reader. The landscape and characters are vividly portrayed. 

However, when it comes to the actual story, this one fell short for me. The constant reminders of toxic masculinity felt borderline preachy and, even assuming this is what the author intended, tiresome. Does every encounter with a man really have to be this way? It seems like it would have been a more powerful story if Elinor had encountered some kind, decent men. And Elinor's struggles with her own brand of feminism grated on me. She uses her own attractiveness when it suits her and she refers to people's weight in a derogatory manner. She's also a bit of a snob. I guess she seems more realistic this way, but it kept me from enjoying the story.

Grappling with touchy issues is important and I'm glad we have novels, like this one, which confront us with difficult truths and force us to re-examine ourselves and society. I suppose my preference is for a lighter touch and for the dramatic narrative not to suffer as a result.

Ultimately, I recommend this novel for fans of literary fiction and for those readers who want to wrestle with important social and gender issues.
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I went into this book completely blind; I had no idea what it was about or even really what genre it was. I must have chosen it on NetGalley because I liked the summary, but then a couple months went by before I got to it and I had no recollection of any of it. I ended up really enjoying it and recommend it!

It starts off feeling almost like a thriller. Elinor is sitting next to a creepy businessman on a plane. She takes some meds to help her sleep and wakes up with a terrible feeling that the man did something to her. Though the novel isn't a thriller, this incident really sets the scene for the rest of the book. Elinor is Asian-American and a former model turned journalist who is on her way from NYC to close to her hometown in North Dakota to write a story that could end up being a big break for her. The story is meant to cover how a big oil boom has effected the once small, quiet town.

While, of course, you can imagine some of the ways the town has changed, this book unpacks so much in terms of greed and corruption, sexism, racism, and more. Elinor is certainly a flawed character, but she's also the kind of character you'll likely find yourself rooting for and wanting to protect. I don't think I'd last a day in her shoes and I commend her for sticking with her job and doing the digging she does.

I understand why the author ended the book the way she did, and I can't for the life of me think of a better way for her to have ended it, but it also didn't feel totally satisfying and left me with a lot of questions.

Overall, this book opened my eyes up to so much "ickiness"(for lack of a better word) in our society. I'm sure I could have read a magazine article about a similar situation in an American small town, but reading about Elinor actually investigating the piece and seeing all she experienced was so much more impactful for me.
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This was an absolutely gorgeous read, and I thought it was so impactful. Having a main character return home and rediscover their past is a familiar story, but Yun keeps it fresh and engaging. Definite recommend.
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Elinor Hanson is a half-Korean former model who returns to North Dakota, where she grew up with her former military dad.  Bakker, North Dakota is going through an oil boom and she is there to write a story about it.  The longer she stays, the more the story changes.  There is an ugly side to the town's rapid growth, with greed, racism and misogyny rampant.  But the author also manages to show the beauty of the landscape.  Elinor is estranged from her sister who lives nearby, and her Korean mother abandoned the family when she and her sister were children.   Elinor starts as a very unlikeable character who makes some bad decisions but by the end of the novel you understand the struggles that made her who she is. 

There are so many layers in this book.  It’s not a light read but it’s a beautifully written story that will stay with you and make you think about so many issues.   I highly recommend this read.  Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for this ARC.
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This was a compelling portrait of a budding journalist trying to find an angle for a story on a booming oil town.  At times, the novel took on the feel of an investigative piece; I was drawn in by how the narrator found sources, asked questions, and made sense of the emerging story. At other times, it was a complex glimpse into the narrator’s life and the events and attitudes that shaped who she is, notably the separation of her Korean-American mom from her strict, white, American military dad.  Ultimately, the story is about classism, racism, sexism, and power and how women fight their way through a culture that is both dangerous to them and dismissive of them.
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O Beautiful by Jung Yun (coming November 2021) is the story of the return of Elinor Hanson, a forty-something former-model-turned-journalist, to North Dakota near her hometown. Avery is a town full of changes brought by the oil boom in the Bakken shale, where people sleep in parking lots because there are no hotels to be had, and men far outnumber women. Elinor is complicated and something of an unreliable narrator. She escaped North Dakota at 18, moving to New York to pursue a modeling career and never returning. Her parents met when her father was stationed in Korea, and he brought her mother back to North Dakota when he was stationed there. Life was not easy for Elinor and her sister as the only Asian-American kids in school, nor for their mother, who left the family before the girls grew up, and hasn’t been in contact since.

As a former model, Elinor always attracts male attention, but she feels particularly unsafe in Avery because of the huge gender imbalance and lack of control exhibited by the oil workers far from their homes. She is interested in the story of the unsolved disappearance of a local girl a few years prior, when the roughnecks first started coming to town, but her editor doesn’t want a “dead girl” story.

O Beautiful is more of a character-driven book than a plot-driven one, as the main plot follows Elinor researching her story and coming to terms with her mother’s abandonment of the family. But at the end of the book, although it seems that she has a plan for it, the story isn’t written.

The author describes several people that Elinor meets as fat, or some generic description such as “round,” “doughy,” or “heavyset.” None of these people were really portrayed positively or sympathetically. It felt like the author was describing them as a contrast to the former model, Elinor, and to show how different the people in North Dakota were than in New York.

Elinor is conflicted about her feminism and its relationship to how women look–she is constantly harassed by men, but she has also used her attractiveness to her advantage, such as when she had a relationship with her graduate school professor. While listening to a “heavyset” young woman describe how unattractive women can get their pick of men in Avery because of the gender imbalance, Eleanor thinks that she doesn’t want to have anything to do with systems that classify people based on their appearance any more. But she had just gone to the front of the line to get into the bar, which worked “just like it did in New York,”

While I thought it was an interesting read, and enjoyed the writing, I had a hard time empathizing with Elinor. I thought the author could have done a better job checking her anti-fat bias, and could have portrayed a couple of fat characters positively, or at least sympathetically. I was also left a little disappointed at the ending, where there really was no resolution. But she did do an excellent job at describing the anti-Asian bias that Elinor deals with, and especially the constant, unrelenting misogyny that many Asian women face. Like the protagonist and the land the title describes, O Beautiful is complicated.

I obtained a free e-galley of O Beautiful through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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A wonderfully written book about a woman returning to the town where she grew up.  The beautiful writing evoked many emotions. This is no ordinary return or town. Elinor is an Asian American reporter and her hometown has been taken over by the oil industry. She is tasked with writing one type of story, but when she arrives and starts interviewing people, she discovers there is so much more going on in this town due to the influx of people.  Elinor has to decide which way to present this story and as she progresses from place to place, interview to interview, I am struck by the prose in this book. I really can see and feel her emotions,  the tensions, and physical places in the town.
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I can not recommend this book enough! I read O Beautiful  in one day.  This book is one of best books of 2021..  I appreciate net gallery and selected publishers for this early copy
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Thanks to Netgalley and St. Martins Press: This book was a joy to read. "O Beautiful" is a compelling and exquisitely written book of self exploration and nuance. Elinor Hanson is Eurasian, former model, who got a late college education and returns to North Dakota as a journalist to explore an oil boom town. She grew up nearby, with a Korean mother who left the family and a career Army father. The assignment was given to her by a former professor/boyfriend--their complex relationship is examined with unflinching honesty. Elinor is struggling to recreate herself after her modeling career. She is an resolute narrator who confronts hard truths and gains hard won insights. As she writes the article and explores the oil boom town, populated overwhelmingly by men, but also by long time residents, she confronts misogyny, racism and a nuanced truth which slowly reveals itself. Elinor is reunited with her estranged sister and her journey towards understanding, revelation and self acceptance is fascinating and compelling. A beautifully written and important book. It read like a mystery and I hope it gets wide readership.
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This book - just wow! It is set in fairly contemporary North Dakota in a town experiencing rapid growth due to the oil industry. Our main character Elinor is back in her home state writing a feature story for a major magazine. 

While not a ton happens in this book, there is plenty enough to keep you reading and wanting to know what happens next, particularly if the oil boom is not something you knew much about, like me. Where this story really shines is in its main character, a former model turned journalist reckoning with so many issues in today's world, particularly racism and sexism, both what she is experiencing in North Dakota as a half-Asian, and in her childhood.

This was such a unique story, full of small twists that keep you wanting to keep reading and larger themes that make you think. Definitely a top book of 2021!
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There is no denying that Jung Yun has the ability to paint a gorgeous picture with her words alone.  Her cadence, observations and characters all in sync. This story exposed the gritty side of the oil boom in North Dakota.  Along the way, the reader is introduced to racism, misogyny, elitism, sexism, destruction, alienation, the power of money and the pain of sudden expansion. 

“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.“

Elinor ( born of a Korean mother and a White father) is a 40+ former model-turned journalist following a story that takes her back to the city she grew up in.  A city she was desperate to leave. Now a  city exploded by the oil industry.  An explosion of population (a vast majority of them males) that this city in North Dakota is trying not too successfully to keep up with.  Elinor has been relatively unsuccessful in her journalism career.  When she is offered the opportunity by a former professor/mentor/lover to write about her hometown, she jumps at it.  

The story drawn up for her to research and the article she is expected to write is not what she decides the story is.  As she works to unravel the “real’ story, the reader is taken through her interviews and, in turn, is able to further glimpse the struggles this town and its residents have been dealing with.  A town that has attracted  many “roughneck” males in search of high paying jobs.  The town feels overrun by what residents consider outsiders.  The ration of men to women add to the tension this boom has created in this relatively small town.  While following the story for the article she is to write, Elinor reflects on her upbringing, her choices, her family and her struggles to fit in.

The story follows many different avenues and unfortunately felt a little too disjointed.  The ending felt sudden and left so many loose ends.  Still a solid 4 star read for me though as the story is engaging throughout and the insights are relevant and important.  None of the characters were overly endearing, but the character development is very strong.  I was curious and vested in all the different characters and storylines.  I really appreciated reading a book with a main character that was a female in her forties.  The writing was beautiful and there were so many great lines in this book to savor.

“What lengths Elinor would have gone to as a child, what lengths she actually did go to, to feel like she belonged to an “us.” Now the group she’s been swept into, albeit temporarily, is no more wanted in this community than she was, an irony that isn’t lost on her.”

Recommend!  Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for the advance copy to read and review.
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The struggles of Elinor Hanson are many, she is trying to reinvent herself after her career as a model has ended.  She is angry about many injustices but in the end quite a few plot lines are unresolved, a couple extra chapters might have helped.  It was a hard book to read because it felt disjointed but it covered some important topics.  Thank you to NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review.
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OMG, so much love for this book. I give it 20 million stars.
The story of a Korean-American woman who goes to North Dakota to write an article about the oil boom and ends up being immersed in a different kind of story.
Themes include: racism, classism, sexism, #metoo, climate change, and more.

Discussed on episode 135 and 136 of the Book Cougars podcast. 
Author Spotlight with Jung Yun on an upcoming episode.
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I requested this novel because I loved the author’s earlier book, Shelter. O Beautiful touches on many issues, #metoo, racism, toxic masculinity, but never really brings a cohesive story together.
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O Beautiful scratches at one's own self-consciousness and, in ways, one's accountability toward finding one's place in the world. In the book's case we follow Elinor, who is returning to her small hometown in North Dakota compared to her most recent city life, also leaving behind her career as a model in favor of starting a writing career. While Elinor observes how her own Asian American identity differs from the whiteness of her hometown, she also contemplates her place in the world as a woman. Unfortunately, what I expected would be thoughtful examinations of intersectional feminism was a bit of a letdown, since the story seems to want to draw these topics out of Elinor, evident of frequent interactions she has with men and women alike. What Yun attempts to craft as thought-provoking reflection instead comes off as well-intended wokeness. Elinor seems to be preoccupied with the origin of men's behavior disrupting the progression toward people like women feeling more empowered to be themselves, such as men she meets having symptoms of violence--which can certainly be enlightening--but I didn't feel there was as much equal focus on Elinor combating white feminism as I'd hoped, especially how the story spotlights Elinor's identity as an Asian American woman. What's left of O Beautiful is some solid writing and interesting character development with Elinor, but unfortunately Yun doesn't write Elinor in a way that feels more complex than anything that's paint by numbers, shackling Elinor to a brand of progressiveness that feels tone deaf and shallow, which seeps into the story itself.
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Elinor Hanson is angry at many things - the way men come on to her and take it for granted that she is available; her sister; the way her Korean/Caucasian bi-cultural background made her feel like an outsider; how she was brought up; the way her lover and mentor expects her to do the journalism project he threw in her lap; the rape of the land by the oil companies.  She in one angry woman.

We meet Elinor on the way to the Bakken in North Dakota where she'll be working on a piece about mining for a major magazine, The Standard.  She used to be a model but went back to school in her thirties to study journalism.  She doesn't have a steady job but takes assignments and piece work whenever she can.  She got this job as a pass-off from her ex-lover and professor who appears to want a hand in telling her what to do.

As she works on her piece about the changes in North Dakota since the oil boom, she looks back at her own childhood spent in this very place.  Her father was in the military and her mother deserted her and her sister when Elinor was 12 years old.  This used to be a quiet place but now it's filled with men, rough-shod men who work on the oil rigs.  There are  probably hundreds of men to one woman.

Despite Elinor's professed disgust at how men objectify women, she likes to spend her free evenings at The Depot, a big drinking and dancing bar in town.  Despite thinking she might write about the impact of the boon  on women particularly, she gets too drunk most nights to do her transcriptions.

This novel is written very well but it doesn't stay on track.  There are too many back stories and rabbit trails.  I would have preferred knowing how Elinor completes her assignment, or at least how she begins it.  Some of the events that she deals with seem almost unbelievable and redundant to the story.  I wondered if it was filler or if the author had several more stories that she wanted to write.
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