SHELTER

Jung Yun

Kyung Cho is a young father burdened by a house he can’t afford. For years, he and his wife, Gillian, have lived beyond their means. Now their debts and bad decisions are catching up with them, and Kyung is anxious for his family’s future.

A few miles away, his parents, Jin and Mae, live in the town’s most exclusive neighborhood, surrounded by the material comforts that Kyung desires for his wife and son. Growing up, they gave him every possible advantage—private tutors, expensive hobbies—but they never showed him kindness. Kyung can hardly bear to see them now, much less ask for their help.

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Kyung Cho is a young father burdened by a house he can’t afford. For years, he and his wife, Gillian, have lived beyond their means. Now their debts and bad decisions are catching up with them, and Kyung is anxious for his family’s future.

A few miles away, his parents, Jin and Mae, live in the town’s most exclusive neighborhood, surrounded by the material comforts that Kyung desires for his wife and son. Growing up, they gave him every possible advantage—private tutors, expensive hobbies—but they never showed him kindness. Kyung can hardly bear to see them now, much less ask for their help. Yet when an act of violence leaves Jin and Mae unable to live on their own, the dynamic suddenly changes, and he’s compelled to take them in. For the first time in years, the Chos find themselves living under the same roof. Tensions quickly mount as Kyung’s proximity to his parents forces old feelings of guilt and anger to the surface, along with a terrible and persistent question: how can he ever be a good husband, father, and son when he never knew affection as a child?

As Shelter veers swiftly toward its startling conclusion, Jung Yun leads us through dark and violent territory, where, unexpectedly, the Chos discover hope. Shelter is a masterfully crafted debut novel that asks what it means to provide for one’s family and, in answer, delivers a story as riveting as it is profound.

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  • Picador
  • Hardcover
  • February 2016
  • 336 Pages
  • 9781509810505

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$26.00

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About Jung Yun

Jung Yun was born in South Korea, grew up in North Dakota, and educated at Vassar College, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Her work has appeared in Tin House (the “Emerging Voices” issue); The Best of Tin House: Stories, edited by Dorothy Allison; and The Massachusetts Review; and she is a recipient of an honorable mention for the Pushcart Prize and an Artist’s Fellowship in fiction from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. She lives in Western Massachusetts with her husband.

Praise

“[A] fearless and thrilling debut novel.”—Town & Country

Magnetic, searing, insightful, Shelter is a mic-drop of a debut: a story of post-financial crisis America that establishes Jung Yun as a necessary new voice in American fiction.” —Alexander Chee, author of The Queen of the Night

“Poignant, spellbinding, and profound, Shelter will keep you up until the wee hours of the morn. In her brilliant debut novel, Yun skillfully untangles this snarled web of family lies, tragedy, identity, and loss. Redemption is hard-earned, and kindness comes in rare and unexpected places, but hope shimmers just beneath the surface. This is a book of heartbreaking genius.” —Mira Bartok, bestselling author of The Memory Palace

Discussion Questions

1. What were your initial impressions of Kyung Cho in the opening scene of the novel? How did your understanding of him as a father, husband, and parent change as you read on?

2. Financial debt plays a major role in Kyung and Gillian’s lives. What other kinds of debts are present in this novel? And how do these obligations influence the ways in which the characters interact with each other?

3. How do the various houses in Shelter reflect their owners’ personalities? In what ways do they provide a sense of security for their owners (or reinforce their insecurities)?

4. As first generation immigrants, Jin and Mae came to the U.S. to pursue their idea of the American Dream. As a “1.5 generation” immigrant (someone who immigrated at a very young age), how is Kyung’s version of the dream similar to, or different from, his parents’?

5. Kyung thinks of his mother, Mae, as someone “who never believed she was capable of anything.” In what ways does your perception of Mae align with or contradict his image of her?

6. Gillian suggests that it would have been understandable if Kyung had simply ended his relationship with his parents. Why might it be difficult for adult children of abusive and/or neglectful parents to simply relinquish their caretaking responsibilities?

7. Gillian suggests that it would have been understandable if Kyung had simply ended his relationship with his parents. Why might it be difficult for adult children of abusive and/or neglectful parents to simply relinquish their caretaking responsibilities?

8. Kyung notes that Jin treats his grandson, Ethan, very differently than he treated Kyung as a child. Is this a selfish act on Jin’s part? Or a selfless one?

9. Both of Kyung’s parents seem drawn to religion for different reasons. What are some of those reasons? And why does Kyung reject the church and the people associated with it so strongly?

10. Connie says that he knew “not even five minutes after meeting [Kyung]— that nothing was ever going to make [him] happy.” How does the idea of happiness differ for each character? And how do characteristics like race, gender, religion, age, and class influence those differences?

11. In the final scene, Kyung begins to see his father in a more sympathetic light. In what ways is that sympathy earned or not earned?

12. What do you hope for the main characters by the novel’s end?

13. At one point, Kyung decides that he no longer wants to “pretend” any more. How are all of the characters in this book, including the secondary characters, guilty of pretending? And why do they engage in this kind of behavior?

14. How does the physical landscape of the neighborhoods in this novel serve as an allegory of class?

15. Kyung struggles to parent because “the part of him that wanted to be a good father was constantly at odds with the part that didn’t have one.” Given his awareness of the ways in which he falls short, is this a justifiable excuse for his behavior?