1426, Joseon (Korea). Hwani's family has never been the same since she and her younger sister went missing and were later found unconscious in the forest near a gruesome crime scene. Years later, Detective Min―Hwani's father―learns that thirteen girls have recently disappeared from the same forest that nearly stole his daughters. He travels to their hometown on the island of Jeju to investigate… only to vanish as well. Determined to find her father and solve the case that tore their family apart, Hwani returns home to pick up the trail. As she digs into the secrets of the small village―and collides with her now estranged sister, Maewol―Hwani comes to realize that the answer could lie within her own buried memories of what happened in the forest all those years ago.
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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.
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.
NOTE: The narration does not affect my rating of the book
If you like audiobooks, then please consider this book on audio. I definitely had a good variety of physically reading and listening to this book due to the options given to me. But the audio narration is done so well that I would absolutely recommend it. I would have finished the book in audio format but I wasn’t able to listen and I needed to finish. Anytime I read a book that has language I am not used to reading, it is always amazing to actually hear the words the way they are supposed to be pronounced. And the way Sue Jean Kim brought these words to life, just made it so much better. I never felt lost listening to this story and could easily follow along.