Supposedly Mina has everything going for her. She is an honor student on the verge of attending her senior year of college after which she plans on attending to Harvard; but is she? These are the things that she allows her mother to believe the summer before her senior year. She and her little sister Suna work days at their parents dry cleaners and Mina spends the evenings going to a college prep course at the local library. Trapped by the lies that she has told her mother, Mina has been siphoning money from her family’s dry cleaners so that she can run away to a new life since she knows that Harvard is not in her future.
I squealed and had a few tears in my eyes after reading this beautiful and thoughtful story of two sisters struggling to find themselves and their way in less than ideal family circumstances. The narrative alternates between Mina and and Suna in the first and third person respectively. Mina, being more caught up in the day to day weight of being her mother’s favored child and in being her sister’s protector, has the more active voice. Suna, who is always trying to escape the world and often unplugs her hearing aid to dodge her mother’s harsh nagging and criticism, is a distant observer and her brief chapters provide a fleeting emotional overview of the sisters’ lives and their limited world. Even though the narratives and voices are so different the story unfolds seamlessly, and without being consciously aware of it I received information about the sisters and their family history which affects the volatile dynamics between Umma, the girls’ mother, with Apa (their father) and her daughters as well.
With the exception of Mina, and Suna to a lesser extent, the development of the other characters can be a little thin, but I was okay with that because of the almost dream like quality of the style and writing of the book, and the fact that neither Mina or Suna closely examine the lives of others. Their narrative gives enough hints of the other characters that you can just begin to sketch out what their lives and motivations might be. They are all the background here since Suna cares solely for Mina, and Mina cares solely for her sister and running away from the lies she has told and the mess she has created.
Umma and her friend Mrs. Kim have a friendship that is fraught with competitiveness over their children- how smart they are and who will make it into a better school (in this case Harvard vs. Stanford) even as Umma humbles herself to looks to take help and advice from Mrs. Kim. Mrs. Kim’s son, Jonathan, is a whip smart teenager taking advantage of the power position that he has over Mina. There is just barely enough insight into his actions to keep him from being one note. Mina doesn’t really know enough or think enough about Jonathan to understand him, so neither does the reader.
A lot of what Mina does is questionable, I really felt for her and the considerable pressure that she was under that influenced her to make some of the choices that she did. When Ysrael enters into the story both Mina and Suna start to change in ways that are both beneficial and disastrous at the same time. I really enjoyed the dynamics- the understanding and love- between the teenagers and Suna, who is on the cusp of adolescence but trying desperately to stay a little girl. Mina can be more than a little frustrating at times with her inertia and naivete. Like I said before some of the the things that she decides to do just boggle the mind, and you wonder how she thinks it will possibly work out? But then again when I think of the things that I thought would work out as a teenager, I’m not so hard on her.
The writing in Wait for Me is beautiful and observant, and I think Na does a good job in presenting young people who aren’t necessarily thinking but just doing the best that they can to navigate life. I liked this as a moving family drama with just a touch of mystery running through it. There’s an end in the beginning that has you wondering how it comes about and what comes after. It’s in the back of your head all throughout the book!
About the Author: An Na was born in Korea and grew up in San Diego, California. A former middle school English and history teacher, she is currently at work on her third novel. She lives in Vermont.
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I find that I usually like to read about most characters, good and bad, if they feel something about what is going on in their lives. I do run into characters that I want to slap into action, and Mina is on that list. How do you deal with a character’s inertia in books? Are you sympathetic or does it make you restless? Do you slap them around just a little bit?