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Review: Banned Book Club

When I self-reflect about my reading habits, I often wonder how I can push myself out of my reading comfort zone. I wonder how I can expand my reading repertoire since much of my reading is as much professional as it is for pleasure. Though I often try to vary my reading, I find myself reverting to the same authors over and over again and sticking to the same safe genres I enjoy. Banned Book Club was definitely a departure from my regular reading, but I am so glad that I went for it. Here’s to more of those departures in 2020!

Banned Book Club
By Kim Hyun Sook, and Ryan Estrada. Art by Ko Hyung-Ju
Iron Circus Comics, $15, February 2020
Grades 9 and up

Though it is against her mother’s wishes, Kim applies and registers for college. It’s the 1980s in South Korea. Young college students are more concerned about protesting their oppressive government than they are in a formal education. But Kim is taken by surprise, because all she wants is a traditional college education, with classes and homework and exams. Even so, she is swept up into student activities and finds herself part of a book club that reads only banned books. It isn’t her intention to get mired in student protests, but she can’t help it. As Kim slowly becomes one of the group, her eyes open wider and wider to the people’s predicament and becomes devoted to the cause.

Readers unfamiliar with Korean history might flounder in the very beginning, but after a few pages, this is all one needs to really know: Military dictatorship – not so good. It’s a common story throughout our world’s history. But by no means does that make this a conventional comic. Through the manwha (Korean comics) style, the story uses humor, suspense, and romance and tells a heartwarming tale of bravery. It gives young readers a glimpse of young people protesting true tyranny.  

Kim and her friends are all very likable characters. And the arc of Kim’s growth from a naïve school girl to a brave protestor is written in a very believable fashion. The black and white manwha style artwork captures the chaotic times and extreme emotions. The simple black and white drawings have much movement and intense facial expressions. The array of characters leaves the readers with feelings of bravery, courage, and sacrifice. Even the adults in Kim’s life are the same. Only the evil policeman feels like a caricature. He seems too driven, though a small scene where he misses his family gives another side to him.

Overall, this is a highly recommended title. Readers will want to discuss what life is like in under a dictatorship. Pair it with Peter Sis’s The Wall: Life Behind the Iron Curtain or The Other Side of the Wall by Simon Schwartz, about leaving East Germany while the wall was up.

Esther Keller About Esther Keller

Esther Keller is the librarian at JHS 278, Marine Park in Brooklyn, NY. There she started the library's first graphic novel collection and strongly advocated for using comics in the classroom. Her collection is also the model for all middle school libraries in NYC. She started her career at the Brooklyn Public Library, and later jumped ship to the school system so she could have summer vacation and a job that would align with a growing family's schedule. On the side, she is a mother of 4 and regularly reviews for SLJ and School Library Connection (formerly LMC). In her past life, she served on the Great Graphic Novels for Teens Committee where she solidified her love and dedication to comics.


  1. where can I read the whole comic?

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