Monday, May 04, 2015

Even if the Sky Falls Down

Susan Jackson Bybee’s Even if the Sky Falls Down was a nice surprise because I had no idea what to expect from it.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I will mention that I have been an internet buddy of Susan’s for about eight years now and I knew that she had been working on a novel for a while.  I will also confess that if I had not enjoyed Even if the Sky Falls Down, I would probably have chosen not to review the novel at all.  Thankfully, that did not turn out to be the case, because as she proves in her debut novel, Susan Jackson Bybee is a writer.  No doubt about it.

Lily Thompson, formerly a teacher of English to kindergarten students in Seoul, South Korea, badly needs a job.  She loves children and cannot wait to get back into the classroom, but after several job interviews she has come to the realization that the cast on her broken leg is scaring away potential employers.  And now, although Lily really wants to stay in Seoul, figuring that children are children wherever they live, she is desperate enough to interview for a job in the Korean countryside.   But when she learns that she will be working with some of the oldest people in the country rather than with tiny children, Lily, after initially turning down the job, only reluctantly accepts it. 

And she will never be the same.

Part of Lily’s new job is to complete the project that her Canadian predecessor has been forced to abandon in which a group of elderly people are asked to provide an oral history of their experiences during Korea’s terrible civil war.  As the weeks go by, Lily is surprised by how deeply she is bonding with some of her students (and vice versa) and that the process is teaching her as much about herself as it does about Korea’s past. 

Susan Jackson Bybee and Friend
But it is by inserting short transcripts of numerous oral histories into Lily’s story that Bybee deftly changes the novel from one in which readers are likely to focus only on the immediate problems of its central character into one filled with a score of interesting characters.  Each of the elderly Koreans has a unique story to tell and, for the most part, they tell their story in a voice that displays a personality and temperament all their own.  They are survivors and their stories are a reminder that, as always, not all the victims of warfare wear the uniform of one side or the other.

Bottom Line:  Even if the Sky Falls Down is a nicely plotted debut novel that I enjoyed and learned from.  I look forward to more from Susan Jackson Bybee.

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