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Dragon Pearl

Book review by
Michael Berry, Common Sense Media
Dragon Pearl Book Poster Image
Fox-spirit teen brings Korean myths to adventurous sci-fi.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Dragon Pearl mixes science fiction with Asian folklore. It offers a glimpse of how Korean culture might adapt to life in space.

Positive Messages

Family members need to watch out for each other. Bravery in the face of adversity usually leads to success. Friends should be honest with each other.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Thirteen-year-old Min is brave and clever, determined to find her older brother and clear his name from a charge of desertion. She is more than a little impulsive and is often less than honest, even with her friends and family, but her heart is in the right place. 

Violence & Scariness

The violence in Dragon Pearl is infrequent and generally low-key. Min knocks a government official unconscious with a pot. A legion of ghosts threatens her, and she sustains a blaster wound in one shoulder. Another character is attacked by ghosts.

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Dragon Pearl is a futuristic fantasy by Yoon Ha Lee that mixes space opera with Korean mythology and magic. Fox spirits, a troll, shape-shifting tigers, and dragons are essential parts of the plot. There are some mildly violent scenes involving ghosts and laser blasters. Sex and swearing are not part of the mix.

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What's the story?

As DRAGON PEARL opens, 13-year-old Min learns that her beloved brother is accused to having deserted the Space Forces. A shape-shifting fox spirit, Min has Charm powers that allow her to influence the thinking and behavior of people around her. She smuggles herself aboard a spaceship and pretends to be a Cadet who actually has been killed. As Min endures the rigors of Cadet life, she also looks for clues as to the whereabouts of the Dragon Pearl, a mystical jewel capable of transforming entire planets. Thanks in part to her fellow Cadets -- a nonbinary troll and a dragon -- she moves steadily closer to a revelation that could affect the entire galaxy.

Is it any good?

Mixing science fiction and fantasy sometimes results in a dilution of both genres, but this combination of space opera and Korean folklore finds the right, enjoyable balance. With Dragon Pearl, author Yoon Ha Lee offers up an engaging main character, a magical trickster ready to Charm her way to her destiny. Readers will find the diverse cast lively and unpredictable, the plotting well executed, the world-building offbeat and intriguing. The book ends on a perfect note of closure, but most readers would welcome Min's further adventures.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Dragon Pearl mixes elements of science fiction with ancient Korean mythology. What kinds of stories lend themselves to being remixed for modern audiences?

  • Min encounters many ghosts during the course of Dragon Pearl. Why do readers like stories about ghosts? How do different cultures deal with the notion of life after death?

  • Throughout the book, Min has to trick enemies, friends, and family. Is such manipulation ever justified?

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