The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea: Green Frog Reviews

The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh is a NYT Bestselling retelling of a traditional Korean folktale. Full of charm, romance, and the whimsy of a Studio Ghibli film, it’s easy to see why Oh calls this gorgeous, feminist tale “the book of [her] heart.”

Summary:

Deadly storms have ravaged Mina’s homeland for generations. Floods sweep away entire villages, while bloody wars are waged over the few remaining resources. Her people believe the Sea God, once their protector, now curses them with death and despair. In an attempt to appease him, each year a beautiful maiden is thrown into the sea to serve as the Sea God’s bride, in the hopes that one day the “true bride” will be chosen and end the suffering.

Many believe that Shim Cheong, the most beautiful girl in the village—and the beloved of Mina’s older brother Joon—may be the legendary true bride. But on the night Cheong is to be sacrificed, Joon follows Cheong out to sea, even knowing that to interfere is a death sentence. To save her brother, Mina throws herself into the water in Cheong’s stead.

Swept away to the Spirit Realm, a magical city of lesser gods and mythical beasts, Mina seeks out the Sea God, only to find him caught in an enchanted sleep. With the help of a mysterious young man named Shin—as well as a motley crew of demons, gods and spirits—Mina sets out to wake the Sea God and bring an end to the killer storms once and for all.

But she doesn’t have much time: A human cannot live long in the land of the spirits. And there are those who would do anything to keep the Sea God from waking…

Review:

“I have entered a new world–a world of dragons, of gods with unfathomable powers, of assassins who move unseen through the shadows, where your voice can be transformed into a bird and then stolen, and where no one I love can ever reach me.”

-Mina Song, The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea

I remember hearing the Tale of Shim Cheong as a child when my mother read Korean folktales to me. The illustrations in those children’s books have inspired my love of stories even into adulthood, but none more so than the image of Shim Cheong emerging from a giant lotus flower that magically rose up out of the sea.

This was not an image I’d seen before in Grimm fairytales, or in Disney movies. I felt like it was wholly my own as the child of a Korean woman growing up in white-centric America, and that made it extremely special as I continued to study literature even into college. Even if no one else around me knew about the beautiful, kind Shim Cheong who bloomed from the sea and married an emperor, I never forgot that Korean folktales and myths were as beautiful and powerful for the imagination as everything else I read for academia.

So Imagine how overjoyed I was when, as an adult, I discovered that a retelling of my childhood love, the Tale of Shim Cheong (with a GORGEOUS cover), was being published, and was gaining traction from YA readers! I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy and witness for myself what other readers had been experiencing their whole lives–the generational stories of their ancestors put on proud display.

From beginning to end, The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea is a compelling, feminist ride with lyrical lines that stopped my heart cold. I adored Mina and her power to love her family and friends no matter the distance, or form they took. She saw the best in everyone, and was so loyal to her inner truths that she changed the hearts of all who got close. I believed in Mina and her power, just as I did the Tale of Shim Cheong and the strength it gave me as an Asian American teen who was told to celebrate other people’s favorite stories.

This retelling brought back all my love for Korean lore while also showing it to others who would fall for its charm as well. I’m glad books like this are in the world now, reaching and changing hearts the way I always knew they could.

I know it seems like I’m writing more of a personal blog post than a review, but I’ve never read or reviewed a book like this, and I think it’s important to share the importance of this refreshing journey that I’ve waited so long for.

Okay, now onto some review bits! The descriptions of all the food, clothes, architectural wonders, and imaginative world-building of the Spirit World were stunning, and made a lesser-known mythological realm feel as if it was close within reach. Powerful female friendships stole the show, in my opinion, though Mina’s growing camaraderie with mythological beings filled me with so much joy. Yay for representation of East Asian creatures of legend!

I’ll admit that I’m not one for love stories these days, but this book transported me to back to the teenaged version of me who would have died over a good slow burn romance like this one. I won’t say too much about it because Mina’s journey is so bittersweet and satisfying, and I wouldn’t want to ruin it for anyone who’s about to experience the machinations of the red string of fate.

While The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea ultimately diverges in many ways from the Tale of Shim Cheong, it was a retelling that captured all the charm and wonder of the original tale, while adding a refreshing feminist spin and a haunting examination of humankind’s search for love from the divine. It’s a book about second chances, the eternal link and love of families, and how sometimes the destiny we want is ours for the taking.

Final Thoughts:

In many ways, this book was exactly what I needed as a Korean-American teen, making it a healing and significant read for me as an adult. I hope that The Girl who Fell Beneath the Sea will soon become one of many Korean-inspired YA fantasy books making Asian American teens feel seen, and showing them that their traditional tales deserve to be told again and again.

Their experiences are beautifully varied, and their literature should be, too.

You can keep up with Axie Oh here:

Website: www.axieoh.com

Twitter: @axieoh

Instagram: @axieoh

What should you read next?

Make sure you check out Axie Oh’s other novels, the Rebel Seoul duology and XOXO. Also, if you have not yet watched Spirited Away, I highly recommend it for fans of The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea.

For more Asian-inspired retellings of classic tales, go grab Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao and The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh. If you’re dying for more YA with a Korean setting, look for ANYTHING by the fabulous June Hur!

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