A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Lots of historical information about Korea. Full sections are devoted to biographical stories set before, during, and after the Korean War as well as Korea under Communist rule. Explains how Korea got divided into North and South. Unflinchingly shows the danger, brutality, horror, and irrationality of racism, in the past and in the present. Also has a glossary of Korean words and phrases.
Strong themes of family, learning from history, speaking your truth, and standing up to bullying behavior. Also has strong messages of supporting your friends (and teamwork), being courageous (and learning self-control in the face of hatred), and having gratitude (for others'/grandparents' experiences).
Positive Role Models
Junie Kim is an incredibly positive role model, as are her grandparents, Doha and Jinjoo, who each have incredible stories to tell. In the beginning, Junie is shy, scared, and quiet. But by the end, she's confident, brave, and directly stands up to bullying and racist behavior, organizes a school-wide resistance effort to confront racism, and develops a deep gratitude for her grandparents' experiences with racism, war, and trauma, national and personal.
Violence & Scariness
Lots of wartime violence talked about. Stories of soldiers getting killed, buried alive, shot in the head, tortured. Stories of children being killed (with "bullet holes in their skulls"), men getting beaten, whipped, headbutted, kicked, and punched, American soldiers killing innocent Korean civilians, and a pregnant woman getting shot to death with enemy soldiers "aiming at her swollen belly." Other stories of dead bodies with eyes missing, stab wounds, and missing limbs. Mothers check over dead bodies to see if they are sons or husbands ("bodies that are bloody, faces bashed in"). Soldiers come into a clinic bloodied and bruised. A quick mention of an implied sexual assault. In the present, many instances of racism occur. An Asian American girl gets hit by sticks and stones and pushed over by a boy who consistently shows racist and bullying behavior. Racist anti-Asian graffiti and swastikas are painted on lockers and fliers on campus many times. A 12-year-old girl contemplates eating a handful of Ibuprofen pills. Discussion about suicide and depression follows.
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Violence & Scariness in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Sex, Romance & Nudity
Vague sexual joke: President Rhee gets "people to lick his feet clean." A man responds, "not just his feet." Girls talk about one of their older brothers "getting hot."
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Sex, Romance & Nudity in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
No swear words, but racist language includes "North Korean commie," "North Korean spy," "commie pig," "chink," "terrorist," "dog eater," "go back to your country," and "Kim Jong Un."
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Language in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Products & Purchases
A reference to Linda Sue Park's novel, When My Name Was Keoko.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
A 12-year-old girl thinks about taking a handful of Ibuprofen pills.
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Drinking, Drugs & Smoking in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Finding Junie Kim, by Ellen Oh (Dragon Egg Princess), is an excellent middle grade novel about an Asian American girl learning about history, racism, and herself. Half of the novel is Junie's fist-person story in the present, her dealing with daily racist and bullying behavior from some tormentors, recently emboldened by their "MAGA hats and fake news claims." Racist anti-Asian graffiti and swastikas are painted on lockers and fliers on campus many times. The novel unflinchingly shows racist behavior (schoolyard hate crimes) and language ("commie pig," "North Korean spy," "Kim Jong Un," "terrorist," "chink," "dog eater," and "go back to your country"). The other half of this novel is basically the stories of Junie's grandparents and the difficult experiences they endured during the Korean War in the early 1950s, how they met, and why they ended up in America. For older middle graders, this partly historical tale has lots of stories of wartime violence. There are stories of soldiers getting killed, buried alive, shot in the head, stabbed, having their eyes removed, and tortured. There are stories of children being killed (with "bullet holes in their skulls"), men getting beaten, whipped, headbutted, kicked, and punched, American soldiers killing innocent Korean civilians, and a pregnant woman getting shot to death with enemy soldiers "aiming at her swollen belly." Mothers check over dead bodies to see if they are sons or husbands ("bodies that are bloody, faces bashed in"). A 12-year-old girl contemplates eating a handful of Ibuprofen pills. Discussion about suicide and depression follows.
Is It Any Good?
Definitely more for older middle graders, like its main character, this novel is brave, bold, and unflinching in showing the reality of racism, historically and now. Finding Junie Kim is an important and timely novel that features an Asian American girl lead who starts out shy, depressed, and with little hope, but quickly turns into a story of empowerment, resistance, and finding your own voice. The kinds of racist and bullying language and behavior that many Asian American children must endure daily at their schools can be shocking to many parents, as well as the reasons for why children might not want to talk about similar hardships they face. But this novel also models positive and nonviolent ways of resistance.
The portions that cover Junie's grandparents' stories, their experiences and hardships with racism, communism, and wartime violence, absolutely shine. With these family experiences now within her, Junie finds herself. The journey of claiming identity that Junie takes in Finding Junie Kim is inspiring and, sadly at this point, necessary. It is stories like these, in our own voices, that help to change minds, teach others, and shut down hate.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
Suggest an Update
Our Editors Recommend
Books with Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander Characters
Books About Racism and Social Justice
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.See how we rate