The Forest of Stolen Girls by June Hur
Published April 20th 2021 by Feiwel & Friends
Age Range: Young Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery
Representation: Korean cast
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. The only thing they remember: Their captor wore a painted-white mask.
To escape the haunting memories of this incident, the family flees their hometown. Years later, Detective Min—Hwani’s father—learns that thirteen girls have recently disappeared under similar circumstances, and so he returns to their hometown 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 reconnects with her now estranged sister—Hwani comes to realize that the answer lies within her own buried memories of what happened in the forest all those years ago.
Let me just say how extremely happy I am that June Hur is writing books that are set in Joseon, Korea, one of the periods that I absolutely adored watching on screen and that now I could read about. Add the fact that she’s currently focused on the mystery genre, I’m just excited for what may come out next. I already know Red Palace would be amazing.
Back to the review of The Forest of Stolen Girls, I’m in love. Min Hwani’s perspective was incredibly fun to read. Without the availability of technology in that period, Hwani could only rely on her gut instincts and the existing evidence to narrow down the scope of her investigation.
Driven to find out about her own father’s disappearance, Hwani heads back to their old hometown where her sister, Min Maewol, is living with the local shaman. Following the footsteps of her detective father, Hwani realizes that her father’s disappearance is intricately linked to the thirteen missing girls of the village, and the forest in which Maewol and her almost went missing years ago.
Set in 1426, the year of the crown princess selection, June Hur brought in the real-life history of the period when beautiful, young ladies were prepared to enter the palace. Instead of it being on the mainland, The Forest of Stolen Girls is in Jeju which has a sort of mystical and atmospheric feeling.
“But there are two types of people… Those that retreat and huddle together like frightened birds, overwhelmed by the darkness of this kingdom, and those that grasp their freedom to struggle on the behalf of others, their eyes fixed on a great light that will always shine for those who seek it.”
From the years she has lived with her father, Hwani learned some detective skills but still, as an amateur, there were some things that she would overlook. When Hwani starts narrowing down on suspects, she often would stubbornly narrow into certain details instead of looking at the bigger picture and reflecting on the facts and evidence she had, showing her lack of experience.
Having lived apart for so long, the sisters are estranged. Maewol resents her father for leaving her behind which Hwani didn’t understand. Unable to communicate, the two sisters often bump heads and couldn’t handle their differences. Despite the animosity that has festered between them, Maewol and Hwani still loved each other a lot. Their care is seen from the moments when Maewol refuses to let Hwani investigate alone and when Hwani would do anything to save her sister from danger.
It’s safe to say that I will support June Hur for the rest of her writing career. Not just because I loved the setting but how seamlessly she incorporates Korea’s history into her books. Similar to The Silence of Bones, I felt like I was fully immersed in the plot trying to figure out the mystery and solve the crime with the main characters. It’s a wonderful feeling to have especially for someone who seeks books for escapism and a trip back in time.