When My Name Was Keoko

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Modern Age

When My Name Was Keoko
Author: Park, Linda Sue
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Time Period: Modern Age
Time Frame: 1940-1945
Geographic Area: Asia
Country: Korea
Topics: WWII
Genre: Fiction
Reading Age: Upper Middle
Format: Chapter Book
Published: 2012

Content Warning

World History > Modern Age > WWII

Sun-hee and her older brother, Tae-yul, live in Korea with their parents. Because Korea is under Japanese occupation, the children study Japanese and speak it at school. Their own language, their flag, the folktales Uncle tells them—even their names—are all part of the Korean culture that is now forbidden. When World War II comes to Korea, Sun-hee is surprised that the Japanese expect their Korean subjects to fight on their side. But the greatest shock of all comes when Tae-yul enlists in the Japanese army in an attempt to protect Uncle, who is suspected of aiding the Korean resistance. Sun-hee stays behind, entrusted with the life-and-death secrets of a family at war.

Emily's Review

This is one of my favorite middle-grade historical fiction novels. There are few books for this age range that explore life under Japanese occupation in Korea. What I love about it is that the author doesn't shy away from the horrors of the time, while still making it age-appropriate. It paints a vivid picture of Korea in the 1940s.

We follow a brother and sister in alternating perspectives over the course of the war. Sun-hee is fairly young and naive in the beginning, but her curiosity drives her to ask questions, a dangerous thing in this time and place. Her older brother Tae-yul is more aware and also angry about what is happening. The two of them offer us different windows into this period. I especially liked reading about Tae-yul's time in the military and the way the Japanese treated the Koreans who enlisted.

I think if you wanted to get a full picture of Korea during WWII and the years after, you should read this book first to see life in South Korea during WWII and immediately after, then read Year of Impossible Goodbyes by Sook Nyul Choi to get the perspective of North Korea in 1945 and up to the beginning of the Korean War.

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