The engrossing voice and outsider's perspective from a young narrator with a brain condition will reward readers of Almond, the debut novel from Won-Pyung Sohn. Yunjae's underdeveloped amygdalae--two almond-shaped clusters of nuclei in the brain--mean that he doesn't experience emotions the same way most people do. His mother and his grandmother raise him with great care, writing down instructions for him to memorize, such as to move away if a car comes close to him and to smile back when people smile at him. Then, at age 16, he is suddenly and violently rendered alone.
Yunjae describes his story as "about a monster meeting another monster. One of the monsters is me." A new student, Gon, arrives at school and sees Yunjae's lack of fear as a challenge to his bullying skills. Yunjae has the idea that learning about the angry Gon may be the key to understanding emotions, and the two develop a surprising friendship.
The narration by a young protagonist with a disorder that affects his ability to identify and express feelings will rightly draw comparisons to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, but Sohn's insightful depiction of an outsider's perspective on society around him will also please fans of other narrators who sharply consider the world at a remove, such as in The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen. Readers will treasure the opportunity to see the world through Yunjae's eyes and watch him as he grows. --Kristen Allen-Vogel, information services librarian at Dayton Metro Library