A Sky of Paper Stars by Susie Yi is both satisfyingly predictable and enticingly surprising. The story centers on middle-schooler Yuna and her attempt to detach from her Korean identity and fit in among her American schoolmates. Not finding the acceptance she craves, Yuna wishes to return to Korea, a place she left when she was just a baby and visited infrequently.
Memories of her halmoni (grandmother) and the stories her mother tells her about growing up there make Yuna believe she would be better off living in Korea. She makes the dreaded wish to return as she folds her 1000th tiny origami star and blames herself when news comes of her halmoni’s death. Burdened with the guilt that she has brought this untimely end, Yuna’s hand seems to turn to paper. Yuna travels to the funeral in Korea where she meets family she cannot even remember and who share memories of their halmoni that Yuna has no part in, causing her to feel even more isolated. As the shame over her wish grows, the transformation of her body to paper begins to creep up her arm. The only remedy, Yuna decides, is to complete an unfinished jar of paper stars her grandmother began folding. Once she reaches 1000, Yuna believes her wish will be reversed, and her halmoni will be restored.
Flashbacks in the novel shift from full-color images to blue or sepia tones, while the remaining present-day images throughout use deep, rich hues and dark brown rather than black linework to create a warmer overall tonality to the story. There are beautifully rendered full bleed pages to represent dream/surreal/imagination (I could envision a whole wordless book of these works by Yi). It’s these more fantastical elements of the story that help connect three generations of women and set the final emotional tone of the novel. The ending is heartwarming and surprising, enticing the reader to close the book and start all over again.
A Sky of Paper Stars by Susi Yi. Roaring Book Press, September 2023.
Reviewer bio: NewPages.com Editor Denise Hill reviews books based on personal interest.