Title: The Forest of Stolen Girls
Author: June Hur
Publication date: April 20th 2021
Age-range/genre: Young-Adult; LGBT, Sci-fi, Romance.
Trigger warnings: kidnapping, trafficking, referenced death of a parent.
Rating: 4/5 stars
Summary: [from goodreads]
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.
The Forest of Stolen Girls is an suspenseful thriller set in 1400s that focuses on Hwani following her father’s disappearance – she’s determined to get to the bottom of this, and the way forward is to return to her hometown and finish her father’s investigation into the case of thirteen missing girls. She hasn’t been back in 5 years after an incident in the forest, and hasn’t seen her sister in years either, and returning awakens a lot of memories and troubles within her.
I’d come to Jeju to look for the truth, and in doing so, everything seemed to be going wrong.
☆ My favourite things about Forest of Stolen Girls: ☆
★ Hwani and Maewol’s bond
★ cultural setting
★ the creepy atmosphere
★ the clues!!
Through great writing, Hur creates an atmospheric mystery that has me on edge for most of the novel. While I had some gripes with the slow pace at the beginning, it gave me more time to become immersed in the setting. I felt transported into the village, and felt terrified for the characters whenever they delved into the depths of the forest.
The mystery overall was great to read; my favourite thing about mysteries is that it pulls me in and makes me focus on every detail and character in an attempt to figure out the clues before its all revealed. I spent so much of this book suspicious of everyone, and I loved that. Believe me when I say half the novel was full of my highlights and annotations trying to put the pieces together.
It was the perfect weather to venture into the woods, even though I’d promised Father to never enter it alone.
Our protagonist Hwani was also suspicious of everyone, which added to my feeling of uneasiness since I worried for her safety. She’s the daughter of a detective, but not one herself. She isn’t that familiar with the village since she hasn’t been back in so long, which causes some blunders along the way in her investigation. She’s not always on point, but she’s still smart and stubborn and determined. I loved that Hwani isn’t always right in her suspicions, as it added to the overall mystery.
I appreciated that some leads were dead ends and too obvious. As Village Elder Moon said, the most obvious suspect is not always the perpetrator. Nothing was as simple as it seemed, and it required both the reader and Hwani to really pause and think things through. The clues scattered in the novel were very smart, and I loved how Hur interwove both culture and clues throughout the story.
We were two starving children scrambling for the few grains of affection left behind by our father.
Despite her struggles, Hwani ambitious to find out what happened, and it was wonderful to see such a strong female character. Similarly, Hwani’s younger sister Maewol is a headstrong girl as well, ready to stand up for herself and won’t let anyone walk over her. Initially, the sisters conflict with each other many times, but it can’t be argued against that they deeply care for each other.
I adored seeing their sibling dynamics, it was by far the most interesting interactions to read in the novel. I really understood where both girls were coming from – Hwani having spent so much time with her father that she will do anything for him, while Maewol felt spurned about being left behind and wanting things to return to normal. It was beautiful seeing them both open up to each other as time progressed, and you could clearly see their bond.
The book also delved into father-daughter relationships, with Hwani having a positive relationship with her father while Maewol did not. Other characters also did not have good relationship with their fathers, such as Gahee who states that while she knows her father has done terrible things that she can’t forget the times he has tried to protect her. It confirms something I have always felt which is that just because someone is a good parent doesn’t make them a good person, and vice versa.
“But my father always told me to be what I long for the world to be like – to be just, to be fair.”
The ending wrapped things up well, with a reveal that I had been anticipating but dreading at the same time. While the novel does fall victim to the trope of exposition from the villain as they explain their motives, it wasn’t too long and the information wasn’t entirely new, just confirming points the reader would have picked up on. I think the best mysteries have you completely stressed with the reveal and satisfied with the conclusion, which is exactly how I felt.
All in all, I really enjoyed reading this novel. It was spooky and captivating and everything I would want in a mystery. It was a fantastic book, and I’m so excited to read more of Hur’s novels!