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Monday, Sept. 14, 2009

Teen Runaway Propels Nami Mun’s ‘Miles from Nowhere’

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Fictionalized accounts of teenage runaways usually depict drugged-out, tough-talking boys plagued by inner demons and explosive anger. Seldom are they given the voice of someone like Joon, a 13-year-old girl and Korean immigrant trying to survive in the New York underbelly of the 1980s, a time when the city was known for being especially dodgy. In the book Miles from Nowhere, debut novelist Nami Mun follows the young narrator over the course of five years on the streets as she fights through heartbreaking, agonizing experiences. Mun, a respected short-story writer, brings a human face to an oftentimes cliché story line in her first novel.

After her father leaves home, shamed by marital infidelities, and her mother begins to suffer an ever-increasing mental break from reality, Joon flees her life in the Bronx to begin a harrowing struggle on the streets. Youth does not stop Joon from speaking in a raw, jarring voice that makes you ache for her: a runaway still so close to home and surrounded by the bright lights of New York, yet living in complete desolation miles from where she needs to be. At times you will want to embrace and protect Joon as she moves from homeless shelters to a job as an Avon lady, existing alongside violent addicts and fellow misfits.

Mun grew up in South Korea and immigrated to the Bronx, but notes that Miles from Nowhere is not autobiographical. Currently a faculty member at Columbia College Chicago, Mun, like her character, left home at a young age before receiving her G.E.D. and going on to graduate from both UC-Berkeley and the University of Michigan. Miles from Nowhere, her story of a young woman surviving on the margins of society, is written in matter-of-fact chapters that will be explored in further detail when Mun visits Boswell Book Co. on Thursday, Sept. 17, at 7 p.m.