Book Review: Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee

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THIRTEEN-YEAR-OLD MIN comes from a long line of fox spirits. But you’d never know it by looking at her. To keep the family safe, Min’s mother insists that none of them use any fox-magic, such as Charm or shape-shifting. They must appear human at all times.
Min feels hemmed in by the household rules and resents the endless chores, the cousins who crowd her, and the aunties who judge her. She would like nothing more than to escape Jinju, her neglected, dust-ridden, and impoverished planet. She’s counting the days until she can follow her older brother, Jun, into the Space Forces and see more of the Thousand Worlds.
When word arrives that Jun is suspected of leaving his post to go in search of the Dragon Pearl, Min knows that something is wrong. Jun would never desert his battle cruiser, even for a mystical object rumored to have tremendous power. She decides to run away to find him and clear his name.
Min’s quest will have her meeting gamblers, pirates, and vengeful ghosts. It will involve deception, lies, and sabotage. She will be forced to use more fox-magic than ever before, and to rely on all of her cleverness and bravery. The outcome may not be what she had hoped, but it has the potential to exceed her wildest dreams.

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I’m usually not much of a middle grade reader, so this book wouldn’t have even been on my radar if my friend Dini had not recommended it to me for one of my 2020 yearly challenges, as well as it being chosen as a BOTM for our Stars and Sorcery book club. So, I was very excited to start this and have some fun, and that’s exactly what happened.

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Like any MG novel, this one too was very easy to read and I just breezed through it in a few hours. The writing style is pretty lighthearted despite some of the deeper themes being explored, it’s very fast paced and everything happens so quickly that you never want to put the book down. The world building is also just perfect, giving us enough information about the different lands and star systems as well the government, without ever overwhelming with too much detail. As someone who is pretty new to the sci-fi genre, that’s very important to me and I was happy that all the scientific terminology and elements didn’t go over my head. And as always, one of my favorite parts of the book was how the author was able to integrate both Korean mythology and culture into the story and how seamless it was in context of the story. The representation is also quite amazing and very matter of fact, which is how it should be, and I just love that younger readers will get to read books with non-binary characters as well about the importance of using correct pronouns.

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Min is such a delightful character to follow. She is a sweet girl who is a bit annoyed that she has to do so many chores at home and is bullied a bit by her aunts and cousins, but she also loves her family and will do anything to find her brother. The literal journey she goes on turns into a metaphorical one, with her finding herself, realizing what’s important to her and thinking about her future. In the meantime, she uses her intelligence, resourcefulness, wit and magical abilities to get through many tricky situations and I was just cackling at most of her shenanigans. She is just thirteen, so she does do impulsive and reckless things but she also quickly accepts her mistakes and figures out how to do better.

This journey is also about her making new friends outside of her family and it was nice to see her form such important relationships and placing trust in others. Both Sujin and Haneul are fun to be around and I loved the camaraderie between them. Even the characters we assume are bad guys are written with nuance and there is always hope for redemption.

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In the end, this is a fun space adventure with characters you fall in love with and root for, and a world that you want to explore more of. But ultimately, it’s also just about friendship, family and having hope. If you love middle grade adventure novels or space operas, I think you’ll love this one. It’s also a Nebula award nominee for this year, so its a perfect choice if you enjoy reading highly acclaimed books.

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