Miles from Nowhere, by Nami Mun
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Publication Date: December 26, 2008
Format: Paperback ARC, 288 pages
After suffering the desertion of her father and the mental collapse of her mother, thirteen-year-old Joon decides to leave her dismal life and quickly runs to a life on the streets in the Bronx of the the 1980’s. Starting off in a shelter for teenagers, Joon makes the rounds as an escort at a night club, an Avon Lady, newspaper girl, and addict and thief. Along the way she meets a heartbreaking cast of characters like herself, each running running from something and doing the best that they can to make their way.
Nami Mun has a way of putting you right there in the present moment of the story. You can’t escape Joon and what she is experiencing and feeling. I was taken with the straightforward yet gripping prose, even though the situations weren’t always comfortable- I acutely felt that discomfort throughout the book. I enjoyed Mun’s skillful use of language to craft sentences filled with not only beauty but ugly truth, and I liked that I was transported into situations in not only Joon’s world, but that of the runaways and strays drifting in and out of her life, especially her brash and thoughtful friend Knowledge.
All of the adult activity going on made it difficult to remember that I was reading the experiences of a very young girl, and this was emphasized by the fact that Mun’s references to age and appearance are sparse at best, but that just made it more realistic and sad when I took a step back and realized that these are the unfortunate experiences of runaways, and most of them just as young vulnerable and troubled as the main character in this novel. When Joon was having a moment on the streets getting high, working, or just survivinng the night I was fully present and aware as the events were unfolding. Mun has strong powers observation and is adept at translating those observations in powerful writing and description.
While each chapter focuses on different time in Joon’s life, the story does not unfold in a linear fashion which made it very difficult to create a time line for what is happening with Joon- people disappear, you don’t know how old she is, and sometimes you don’t even know why things are happening to her. There is a chapter where she is beat-up; it’s over as quickly as it began without references to time period or any friends and activities that are comprising Joon’s life at the moment. The actual experience of the beating is well told and you are right there with Joon as it is happening, but you can’t connect it with anything else in the story except it just being life on the streets.
The structure of the narrative is an interesting choice to make with this story because it is very reflective of a transient lifestyle and state of being, especially of someone who may be viewing her life through the haze of lost times and drugs, but it made it difficult for me to care about her as a character and easy for me to put the book down in between sections since most chapters have nothing to do with the other, and the people that you have gotten to know in reading the chapter are not likely to be around in the next. Joon was disconnected, so I was disconnected and distracted as well.
Nami Mun is a strong writer who creates interesting characters and beautifully describes difficult and intricate life situations. While I enjoyed reading her writing and the story that she created I needed a bit more in terms of the narrative structure to really connect fully with her novel and characters.
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