“The Good Son” by You-Jeong Jeong. Translated by Chi-Young Kim. Penguin Books, 2018. 309 pages
Yu-jin wakes up to the smell of blood. Soon, he discovers his mother’s corpse, and realizes he is covered in blood as well. Unable to remember how he has found himself in this situation, he begins his attempt to piece together the events that lead to this situation. This begins the tense, psychological thriller “The Good Son” by You-Jeong Jeong.
Yu-jin is twenty-five years old and lives with his mother and adopted brother Hae-jin. Yu-jin’s father and older brother died sixteen years ago in an accident, and Hae-jin came to live with Yu-jin’s family after his grandfather passed away. Yu-jin was a talented swimmer, but was forced to stop because of seizures caused by epilepsy. Yu-jin has recently ceased taking medication for his seizures, as it dulls his senses and makes him feel worse. When talking about not taking his medication, Yu-jin says “Not taking my meds was a quenching rain in the desert of my life, even if it sometimes caused a seizure.”
Yu-jin wakes up one day, smelling blood and disoriented. He is at first convinced that he has had a had a seizure while he was out walking, fell into some mud, and didn’t remember making his way home. Yu-jin looks around, and sees bloody drips and footprints covering his bedroom, and leading down the stairs. After making his way downstairs, he discovers his mother’s corpse, covered in blood. This discovery begins a process of piecing together the narrative of what has happened to his mother, and what, if any, his role was in her death.
“The Good Son” is a slow burning thriller in the first pages. As Yu-jin is trying to piece the narrative together, there are many flashbacks to his younger days and time spent with his older brother Yu-min, his days as a swimming champion, and the adoption of Hae-jin. These flashbacks occur throughout the book, and can disrupt the flow of the story, making the plot occasionally hard to follow, but they also provide valuable insight into Yu-jin’s past. The discovery of his mother’s journal as extra insight and intrigue, and offers an outside perspective on who Yu-jin truly is. The narrative is told entirely in first person, and as the plot goes progresses, Yu-jin proves himself to be an unreliable narrator. Disturbing revelations come to light, making the reader question the character they thought they knew. Certain plot points and discoveries seem a little rushed, and the way that Yu-jin suddenly remembers events seems unlikely. However, these flaws are minor and do not detract from the tense, claustrophobic feel that You-Jeong Jeong builds. Even if the reader is able to guess certain aspects of the plot, there are twists and turns up until the final pages. “The Good Son” is a great choice for anyone in search of a thrilling read.
Elizabeth Weislak is the Youth Services Coordinator for Alamance County Public Libraries. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org