Ancco, Janet Hong

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176 pages | Trade Paperback

“[Ancco’s] stories liberate us to be what we are: friends, artists, monsters, mothers, human beings."— The Globe and Mail

At nineteen, the idea that you have your whole life ahead of you with endless possibilities can leave you terrifyingly stiff. Throwing mobility to the wind, you dull yourself with booze. The grown-ups around you are stunted by their own failures so they act out—with alcohol, too, sometimes with violence. What was once the hope of youth quickly spirals into powerlessness and malaise as the days trickle by. Ancco expertly renders the moment of suspension between the desire to grow up and the fear that accompanies it.

Autobiography blends with fiction in these coming-of-age stories about people reckoning with their place in their community and women coming to terms with other women. A boy living with HIV tries to decide how he’s going to tell his parents—or whether he should tell them at all. A mother puts pressure on her daughter to pass her exams, and the stress drives them both to drink, fueling a toxic relationship with a lot of care just below the ugly surface. Another girl keeps getting bruises, but who’s inflicting the damage—herself or a loved one? And dogs—seemingly the only ones capable of unconditional love—offer some reprieve.

In Nineteen, Ancco delivers a cutting panorama of contemporary Korean society that’s much darker than one might expect, while also brimming with life and the vitality of youth.