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  • Mandy McHugh

Skin Deep, Sung J. Woo: A Review

What first attracted me to this book was the cover. Interesting font, color, and title, plus I was in the mood for a mystery. I was thrilled to receive an advanced copy of Skin Deep.

Siobhan O'Brien is a transracial adoptee, Korean adopted by an Irish father and Norwegian mother, who is mourning the loss of her boss and mentor and deciding whether or not to shut down the PI business that he left to her. When an old friend comes to her for help locating her daughter, Siobhan dives into a collegiate mystery with unexpected outcomes. This book surprised me. I was a little wary of the college setting because sliding into the world of fraternities and dorm life can read a little young. However, Siobhan's approach to investigating the daughter brought her into contact with a wide array of characters, which brought a fresh mix and propulsive pacing to the narrative. The missing daughter becomes more of a part of a whole to the mystery, however, as Siobhan's philosophy is to gather as much information as possible because you never know what's going to be useful. I loved this about her, and as a narrator, I enjoyed her voice and interactions with others. Funny, smart, self-aware, and human; she doesn't get everything right on her first try, and she's doing her best to navigate the grief of losing someone close to her and her place in the agency without him. More than the lighthearted tone, Siobhan's character is an interesting examination of identity. Countless times she feels obligated to explain the discrepancy between her Korean appearance and her Irish name. Naming is powerful, and throughout the casual jokes, weird looks, and offhand commentary, Woo is making a shrewd observation about the correlation between who our names tell us to be, how we see ourselves, and how others perceive us, as well. Several seemingly innocuous interactions left me pondering perception. For example, I'm not Asian, but I related to Siobhan's discussion with Craig about his weight. She asks him "how he got so big" and instead of being offended, he talks about his genetics, biological tendencies, and eating habits, all of which I realized is exactly how Siobhan's character handles the questions of her ethnicity. Oftentimes, we don't realize how invasive certain questions can be; we're used to instant gratification, information available at the touch of a button, and to a certain extent, a culture of feeling entitled to know everything about everyone. Additionally, I found the astute commentary on beauty served as a foundation to this argument. Where beauty is often dismissed as a luxury, Siobhan's investigation forces us to question our own beauty standards and perceptions, the power behind conventional beauty, and who defines what is beautiful. It's a study in age, gender, youth, and identity, all wrapped in a beautiful, mysterious bow. So while on its surface, there's a rather fun mystery, Skin Deep proves it is so much more than that, and I look forward to seeing where Woo takes this character and the series. I'd recommend this read to anyone looking for a fun, fast-paced mystery with relevant themes. Big thanks to Polis/Agora and NetGalley for providing an eARC in exchange for honest review consideration.

 

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