I Am the Subway

Scribble US. Aug. 2021. 52p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781950354658.
PreS-Gr 1–As the train narrating Kim’s enthralling book travels both above- and underground, so it reveals passengers’ visible and hidden dimensions. It carries “busy hearts” as a father sprints, to maximize time with his daughter; a diving granny who carries seafood to her daughter and granddaughter; a weary and fretful student returning from an afterschool hagwon tutoring; a small-time entrepreneur hawking gloves. Details—like the harried mom politely called “Aunty,” the tiny, crammed shoe-repair shop, streetscapes, and station names—ground the book in Seoul. Both sober ink and glorious watercolor washes suggest more than they show, of the place and the people: a kind, unemployed young man adds the only color to a bustling commute; a train aisle looks like green grass; faces are distinct and expressive but soft. Particular to Seoul but also universal, this book carries no tropes or types, just “unique lives of strangers,” as the train’s rhythmic ba-dum ba-dum comes to sound like a heartbeat. This is the work of an accomplished and prolific illustrator who is an equally gifted writer.
VERDICT For transportation fans, and all who love scenes of diversity, Smith’s sensitive translation of Kim’s poetic text makes this a trip not to be missed, taking every open-eyed, open-hearted reader on board.

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