Award-winning Korean author Kim’s first novel to be translated into English is a powerful portrayal of teenage angst, confusion, and the surmounting pressures on Korean teens to achieve. Her poignant and very detailed exploration of the complex and unstable emotions of adolescence will keep readers rapt until the end.
Sagwa does an excellent job of portraying mental illness without exaggeration or drama; it is an accurate, unsettling portrait ... A deeply disquieting account of mental illness, Mina is a novel about the tiny hints that, in retrospect, become the biggest clues to a person’s unraveling.
Kim Sagwa's English-language debut is both a difficult and complex read ... Throughout the novel Sagwa veers off on detailed critiques of South Korean society and while this might seem confusing or at least a distraction from the forward motion of the text, these mini-rants are essential in understanding the horrific violence that arises later in the novel ... While the narrative shifts tone in several places to give the reader a sharp critique of South Korean society, these shifts actually serve as counterpoint to the teen melodrama of Crystal's narrative. And while Sagwa’s use of long stretches of dialogue can be somewhat excessive, ultimately her strong characterization of these two troubled young women makes for a compelling and deeply disturbing read.
... there is something missing. Some of this seems to be down to the author, who has eschewed the oft-recommended invocation to 'show and not tell', for there are long passages of semi-editorial description ... the novel can also seem curiously bleached of cultural content... there is little that ties the story and characters down to one place or another ... Characters and scenes are drawn with sharp edges, designed to shock. Despite some drawbacks, the effect by about midway through becomes hypnotic. One continues through to the disturbing end.
There is a strange, claustrophobic disconnection in Mina with its small cast of characters, its made-up city, and its setting of just home and school for the most part, a reflection of the social sphere of Korean students cramming for public exams. Kim’s edgy writing, brimming with detail and run-on thoughts, heightens this hysteria ... Despite Kim’s unabashed literary style, there are times when her language oversteps and gets too particular ... Similarly, characterization borders on the didactic ... It is nonetheless a bold illustration of teenage psychology and how our external environment—school, society, peers—affects our formative years.
Throughout the novel, teen dialogue is rendered realistically, perhaps to a fault; it is nearly impossible to distinguish the voices of friends who come to sound so much alike ... The novel is full of such vivid details, difficult to read and more difficult to forget. A startling, disturbing portrait of teenage friendship.
As a writer, Kim is wordy and specific, sometimes too concerned with the minutiae of an interaction and drawing attention away from the story at large. But as a cartographer and guide of the teenage experience, she is an expert, crafting an unsettling, deeply felt, and ultimately devastating depiction of the turmoil of youth.