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Suspenseful and richly atmospheric, June Hur’s The Forest of Stolen Girls is a haunting historical mystery sure to keep readers guessing until the last page.
1426, Joseon (Korea). Hwani’s family has never been the same since she and her younger sister went missing and were later found unconscious in the forest near a gruesome crime scene.
Years later, Detective Min—Hwani’s father—learns that thirteen girls have recently disappeared from the same forest that nearly stole his daughters. He travels to their hometown on the island of Jeju to investigate… only to vanish as well.
Determined to find her father and solve the case that tore their family apart, Hwani returns home to pick up the trail. As she digs into the secrets of the small village—and collides with her now estranged sister, Maewol—Hwani comes to realize that the answer could lie within her own buried memories of what happened in the forest all those years ago.
THE FOREST OF STOLEN GIRLS released on April 20, 2021
Feiwel & Friends
On Sale: 04/20/2021
384 Pages, Ages 13-18
Praise for The Forest of Stolen Girls
Junior Library Guild Selection
YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Nominee
Forest of Reading 2022 White Pine Award Nominee
“A breathtaking journey through 1400s Korea. … The mystery complements the setting perfectly, and the conclusion is well-plotted and satisfying. … A must for all collections.” —School Library Journal, starred review ⭐
“Crafting a suspenseful, atmospheric historical mystery, Hur (The Silence of Bones) explores women’s lack of bodily agency during this time and the dangers of obsessive protection, adroitly interweaving the historical context of the real horrors that afflicted Korean women from the 13th-century Mongol rule until after 1435.” —Publishers Weekly
“I’m not the shivering type. But knee-deep inside Hur’s taut, suspenseful snare, I felt the cold touch of secrets poking at my shoulder and sometimes, neck. Disappearances, quests, and family tension? I’m all the way in.” — Rita Williams-Garcia, New York Times-bestselling author of A Sitting in St. James, “Entertainment Weekly: 12 Spring Reading Picks From Your Favourite Historical Fiction Authors”
“Set against the backdrop of fifteenth-century Korea—or Joseon, as it was known then—this tightly plotted historical mystery will please fans of both genres. … Those who love well-researched historical fiction with darker themes such as Ruta Sepetys’ Out of the Easy or Elizabeth Wein’s Verity series, will appreciate Hur’s attention to detail. Give to fans of Sherri L. Smith’s The Blossom and the Firefly or Stacy Lee’s Downstairs Girl looking for other well developed Asian characters.” —YALSA
“If you watch a lot of Korean drama that’s set in this particular Joseon era, it’s a huge thing, which is also partly what inspired the author. It’s like a whole genre in itself. This whole idea of obedience and silence is really prized. So to have this young woman, she’s 16, curious and questioning, is really quite fascinating and interesting” —Aparita Bhandari, CBC Radio The Next Chapter with Shelagh Rogers
“The Forest of Stolen Girls is a haunting, breathtaking tale that will have readers on the edge of their seats. … Hur is an absolute master of mystery, and I will be reading her gorgeous books for years to come.” —Adalyn Grace, New York Times-bestselling author of All the Stars and Teeth
“Rich, exquisite, and deeply atmospheric, The Forest of Stolen Girls draws the reader in from the very first page and doesn’t let go. A dark and utterly engrossing mystery, beautifully drawn from start to finish.” —Kathleen Glasgow, New York Times-bestselling author of Girl in Pieces
“Haunting and lyrical. Beware, this tale will draw you deeper into the forest than you want to go.” —Stacey Lee, New York Times-bestselling author author of The Downstairs Girl
“A brilliant historical fiction mystery that is suspenseful, gorgeous and absolutely riveting! Hur brings Jeju Island during the early Joseon period completely to life in a rich, evocative manner that reminds me of watching my favorite historical Kdrama.” —Ellen Oh, author of the Prophecy series
“Knee-deep inside Hur’s taut, suspenseful snare, I felt the cold touch of secrets poking at my shoulder and sometimes, neck. Disappearances, quests, and family tension? I’m all the way in.” —Rita Williams-Garcia, National Book Award finalist New York Times-bestselling author of A Sitting in St. James
“Those who love well-researched historical fiction with darker themes such as Ruta Sepetys’ Out of the Easy or Elizabeth Wein’s Verity series, will appreciate Hur’s attention to detail. Give to fans of Sherri L. Smith’s The Blossom and the Firefly or Stacy Lee’s Downstairs Girl looking for other well developed Asian characters.” – Heather Christensen, Featured Review in nomination for Best Fiction for Young Adults (#BFYA2022)
THE SCREEN OF MIST WAS thick around the red pinewood vessel, as though secrets hid beyond of a land I was not permitted to see. But I knew by memory the windy place a thousand li south of the port. A place with jagged coasts and grassland dotted with black lava rock huts, and with mountains layered upon misty layers. Somewhere on Jeju, this island of wind and stone, between the ancient Gotjawal forest and the cloud-topped peaks of Mount Halla, my father had disappeared.
My eyelids itched with exhaustion as I leaned against the edge of the boat. Mokpo port grew smaller in the distance. The bamboo sails high above billowed in the wind, laced with sea spray, which left everything damp—my robe, the deck, the posts, the shivering passengers huddled around a game, a square board with roughly cut wooden pieces.
These passengers were likely returning home to Jeju, not heading there to look for the missing, as I was.
I glanced over my shoulder and looked past the strands of my dancing hair, caught in a blast of wind, and searched for Mokpo port again. This time I couldn’t see anything other than the mist and the swelling black waters. Gripping the vessel’s edge, I took in a deep breath, trying to ease the panic fluttering in my chest. It was 1426, the year of the crown princess selection—the period when young ladies like myself would be dreaming of entering the palace. Yet here I was, cast away at sea, headed toward a penal island of political convicts.
Forget about the investigation, fear whispered in my mind. Whatever is on that island, it might kill you.
I shook my head and reached into the cotton sack filled with everything I’d brought with me. My hand moved past the wrapped-up dried persimmons, past the necklace with a wooden whistle, to Father’s five-stitched black notebook, which I withdrew. The cover flew open in the wind and pages fluttered, burnt and curled by fire. The last half of the notebook was so badly incinerated that only stubs of black edges remained. A stranger by the female name of Boksun had sent this to me, and I had so many questions about her: Who was she? Why had she sent the journal? How did she know my father?
The deck creaked. I cast a sidelong glance to my right and noticed a gentleman pausing in his steps to gaze out at the sea. One of his hands was braced on the edge of the ship, while the other rested on the hilt of the sword tied to his sash belt. It was as though he were on the lookout for Wokou pirates from the East. By his long, sleeveless overcoat made of stormy purple silk, worn over a long-sleeved lavender robe, I could tell that he was a nobleman.
“Good morning, sir,” I said, my voice quiet. It failed to reach him over the crashing waves.
I dug my nails into my palm. I was not Min Hwani today. I was not a young lady with her hair plaited down her back and tied with a red daenggi ribbon, marking me as a vulnerable and unmarried woman.
“Good morning, sir,” I called out to him, my voice louder and lower than usual.
He turned his head at last, and beneath the shadow cast by the brim of his tall black hat was the face of a middle-aged man with a square jaw framed by a wispy beard. His hooded eyelids weighed over his solemn gaze and whispered of hidden secrets.
“Yes?” The question rolled out from deep within his chest.
“Do you know how long it will take to reach Jeju?”
“No longer than half a day, unless the weather grows worse.” He stared a moment at me, then returned to gazing ahead.
“And how far would the travel be from the port to Nowon Village?” I asked.
A single brow arched. “Nowon?”
“Perhaps a three hours’ walk,” he replied. “I would not know, as I have never traveled by foot. But why are you going there?”
“I’m looking for someone.”
He shifted on his feet to fully face me, his hand still resting on the edge of the boat. “Who are you?” he asked, his question poised as an order.
My muscles tightened. I was the child of Detective Min, but I could not tell him that, for he might have already heard of my father—if not from his famous police work, then for his inexplicable disappearance. And everyone who’d heard of him would have also heard that Detective Min had only a daughter (he did, in fact, have two daughters, but not many knew of my estranged sister). And young ladies like myself did not belong so far from home.
I ran a hand over my disguise—a man’s robe of sapphire silk, long enough to hide my figure and secured by a sash belt. I’d thought I would have more time to spin myself an elaborate cover story to explain my disguise, so I had nothing but a blank page.
Clearing my throat, I said slowly, to buy myself some time, “Do you wish to know who I am, or are you asking for my name?”
“My name is … Gyu.” I took the name from the most recent book I had been reading. “And I … I am a nobody.”
He continued to stare at me, a stare that was flat and unamused. “Those that call themselves a ‘nobody’ are always people of significance. Or a person hiding a secret.”
“Truly, I am no one of much significance,” I said evenly. “I’m a student who recently failed the civil service exam.”
The words flowed out even before crossing my mind. I was a skilled liar, like my mother. Her blood coursed through me, even though I hardly remembered her, as she had passed away too soon. “I have nothing but time, sir, and so I decided to visit Jeju.”
“Is that all you are here for?” His hooded gaze surveyed me, looking unconvinced. Why did he care so much? “You said you were looking for someone.”
I leaned on the edge of the ship and gazed out, trying to appear calm and confident. But I could already feel cold beads of sweat on my brow, drenching me further under the pressure of this stranger’s gaze. Prickly whispers intruded my mind—he is laughing at your disguise; he sees that you are a girl, a helpless, foolish girl—
Using my sleeve, I wiped my forehead. “M-m—” My voice was tightening; I cleared my throat. “My uncle, who is originally from Jeju, went missing.”
Copyright © 2021 by June Hur