When We Fell Apart: A Novel (Hardcover)
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ONE OF THE MOST ANTICIPATED BOOKS OF 2022: Harper’s Bazaar • Vogue • Good Housekeeping • CrimeReads • BookBub • Veranda • Shondaland • Debutiful • PureWow • and more!
A profoundly moving and suspenseful drama that untangles the complicated ties that bind families together—or break them apart—as a young Korean American man’s search for answers about his girlfriend’s mysterious death becomes a soul-searching journey into his own bi-cultural identity
When the Seoul police inform Min that his girlfriend Yu-jin has committed suicide, he’s sure it can't be true. She was successful, ambitious, happy, just on the cusp of graduating from university and claiming the future she’d always dreamed of.
Min, on the other hand, born to an American father and Korean mother, has never felt quite the same certainty as Yu-jin about his life’s path. After growing up in California, where he always felt “too Korean” to fit in, he’s moved to Seoul in the hope that exploring his Korean heritage will help him find a sense of purpose. And when he meets Yu-jin, little does he know that their carefree relationship will set off a chain of events with tragic consequences for them both.
Devastated by Yu-jin’s death, Min throws himself into finding out why she could have secretly wanted to die. Or did she? With a controlling and powerful government official father, and a fraught friendship with her alluring and destructive roommate So-ra, Yu-jin’s life was much more complex than she chose to reveal to Min. And the more he learns about her, the more he begins to doubt he ever really knew her at all.
As Yu-jin’s story—a fraught exploration of selfhood, coming-of-age, and family expectations—collides with Min’s, the result is an engrossing page-turner that poses powerful, urgent questions about cultural identity, family bonds, secrets, and what it truly means to belong.
"Transportive and poignant." —Susie Yang
"Spellbinding." —Jamie Ford
"A young writer to watch." —Jess Walter
"Unforgettable." —Abi Daré
"The most compelling debut novel I've read in years." —Alexander Chee
"Heart-stopping and exquisitely plotted." —Patricia Engel
"Will stay with me for a long time."—Angie Kim
"Gorgeous." —Julia Phillips
About the Author
A native of Nyack, New York, Soon Wiley received his BA in English & Philosophy from Connecticut College. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Wichita State University. His writing has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and earned him fellowships in Wyoming and France. He resides in Connecticut with his wife and their two cats. When We Fell Apart is his debut novel.
"Wiley is a master of structure and pacing, with a gift for ending chapters at their most gripping moments, which gives this quiet, mournful novel the page-turning quality of a thriller. Yet what makes When We Fell Apart such a must-read is its portrayal of the extraordinary pressure faced by young people in Korea to conform and perform."
—The Washington Post
"In his suspenseful debut . . . Soon Wiley navigates two different points of view on a young woman’s mysterious suicide . . . That we know her tragic conclusion doesn’t make [Yu-jin's] past any less urgent than Min’s quest in the present. This is a story about young people constrained in their self-development, one by his own internal pressures, the other by social expectations that are at odds with her true desires." —The New York Times Book Review
"Death arrives quickly and triggers a deepening mystery in When We Fell Apart, the celebrated debut novel of Soon Wiley. . . . Wiley tells parallel stories in alternating, brief chapters—Min's and Yu-jin's, one a roller-coaster of suspense and suspicion, the other a gradual awakening . . . But there are secrets held and kept, secrets that define and deepen characters. There are moments here that beg for the movie rights to be signed: a father-daughter fishing trip where lessons are taught gently but must be followed rigidly; a moment on a dormant driving range when a woman claims her voice for the first time; and a betrayal that leads to one character's destruction. . . . [And] there is another character, one that Wiley lays out just as carefully as he does his young lovers. It is Korea, a nation that has seen conquerors bent on its destruction, on erasing its ambitions."
“When We Fell Apart is a marvelous debut novel, moving and suspenseful, a reminder that the greatest mysteries are those of being and belonging. Soon Wiley is a young writer to watch."
—Jess Walter, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Beautiful Ruins and The Cold Millions
"A lyrical exposition on what it’s like to be biracial, with one foot firmly planted in two distinct worlds, never completely fitting in, but capable of seeing what others do not. A lonely, heartbreaking, spellbinding story of love, self-discovery, and belonging."
—Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
“Propulsive and deeply felt, Soon Wiley's phenomenal debut When We Fell Apart takes on the friction between family bonds, cultural expectations, and personal desires in a way that feels both urgent and intensely real. Even as I raced through the pages to find out what happened to Yu-jin, for me the true heart of the book was Min, and his search for a sense of belonging that neither America nor Korea is quite able to offer him. His story is truly unforgettable.”
—Abi Daré, New York Times bestselling author of The Girl with the Louding Voice
"Melancholic, atmospheric, and consistently surprising. Like Norwegian Wood, there is a minor key running through this love story played out on the frenetic and lonely streets of Seoul. When We Fell Apart is a transportive and poignant debut."
—Susie Yang, New York Times bestselling author of White Ivy
“When We Fell Apart explores the tender and chaotic intersections of culture, community, and the search for self. Rich with philosophical nuance, heart-stopping, and exquisitely plotted, this is a novel to get lost in.”
—Patricia Engel, New York Times bestselling author of Infinite Country
“In this gorgeous debut, Soon Wiley uncovers what secrets kept two lovers from each other before they were finally separated by death. When We Fell Apart explores youth, sexuality, and the freedom to choose your own destiny in a world that keeps insisting on who you should be and how you should love.”
—Julia Phillips, author of the National Book Award finalist and national bestseller Disappearing Earth
"When We Fell Apart is the most compelling debut novel I've read in years. At first a seemingly quiet novel of love and the difficulty in knowing yourself and others, you soon find yourself inside of a masterful plot that seems to move in two directions at the same time, towards the inexorable, stunning ending—unforgettable."
—Alexander Chee, bestselling author of The Queen of the Night and How to Write an Autobiographical Novel
“In this gorgeous, poignant meditation on identity, love, and desire, Soon Wiley illuminates the liminal state of being biracial, of belonging but not, of desperately wanting the world to let you be as you are. When We Fell Apart will stay with me for a long time."
—Angie Kim, bestselling author of Miracle Creek
“A ravishing neo-noir about the search for identity in modern-day Seoul, When We Fell Apart dazzles like neon on a rainy night. In lush, perfectly-tuned prose, Soon Wiley leads readers around dark corners and into the heart of a kaleidoscopic city, unraveling the mystery of one young woman's tragic death through the eyes of a haunted outsider. This is a magical debut.”
—Amy Gentry, bestselling author of Good as Gone and Bad Habits
"A powerful novel that delves unflinchingly into the deeply timely question of what it means to belong to more than one culture."
—Vogue, "Best Books of 2022 So Far"
“This compelling, propulsive novel is as complex as the characters it follows.”
—Good Housekeeping, "Best and Most Anticipated Books of 2022 (So Far)"
“Wiley’s tale is a knockout, its assured narrative ebbing and flowing with grace while painting a haunting and anguished portrait of youth in all its quiet desperation.”
—Booklist (STARRED REVIEW)
"Wiley’s debut novel is poignant and powerful and will leave readers questioning who is and isn't awarded the freedom to be their truest self."
—Shondaland, "Best Books for April 2022"
"In this moody noir set in Seoul, a Korean-American expat goes searching for answers when the university student he’s been hooking up with dies by suicide."
—CrimeReads, "10 New Novels You Should Read This Month"
"In Soon Wiley’s debut novel, When We Fell Apart, two twenty-somethings search for belonging in the city of Seoul, and their lives are irrevocably changed in the process. This book weaves through emotional twists and turns, fraught with complicated tensions involving familial duty, societal judgment, and cultural and sexual identity."
—Asia Pacific Arts
"Searing . . . [Wiley] brilliantly and achingly confronts all the ways his characters struggle to connect and to be whole. . . . That search for ethnic, historic, familial, and sexual identities, seemingly so elusive for adults coming of age, propels Wiley's untethered characters in diverse directions. Some are delusional; some, liberating; and one proves tragically fatal."
—BookDragon, Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center
"At once a noir-like mystery and a deeply compelling coming-of-age story that poignantly examines agency, expectations, and perspective, When We Fell Apart is a beautiful novel perfect for readers of Everything I Never Told You, What's Left of Me is Yours, and Memorial."
"A propulsive book about a young man determined to discover the truth after his girlfriend seemingly commits suicide. Set in Korea, Wiley’s taut page-turner also offers insight into tension of growing up biracial and never feeling like you truly belong in either culture."
—Debutiful, “12 Can’t Miss Debut Books You Should Read This April”
“Balancing perfectly on the line that divides literary work from suspenseful drama, Soon Wiley’s When We Fell Apart skillfully inhabits both genres.”
"In writing When We Fell Apart, notable new novelist Soon Wiley has masterfully woven a story where his two protagonists come from very different experiences and places, yet share the struggle to carve out their own identities. Set in modern-day Seoul, it’s also a love letter to Korea itself, but one that doesn’t pull any punches."
—Asian America: The Ken Fong Podcast
“When We Fell Apart is so expertly plotted and paced, told in prose so lean and lucid that it’s hard to believe that this book in my hands is a first novel. It’s thrilling, deeply human, heartbreaking. It’s equal parts mystery and exploration of identity and duality. What isn’t hard to believe is that Soon Wiley is writer we’ll be hearing from for years to come."
—Michael Knight, author of Eveningland
"A love story, arresting mystery, and global novel of identity in one, When We Fell Apart takes us on a captivating journey through the bright lights and dark byways of modern Seoul, exploring what it means—and what it costs—to be ourselves and live freely. With elegance, sophistication, and verve, Soon Wiley delivers a beautiful debut novel."
—Jack Wang, award-winning author of We Two Alone
"With rich prose, [Soon Wiley] deftly captures the voices of Min and Yu-jin, as they grapple with love and loss, identity, and obligation. Suspenseful, layered, vivid, and true, this gorgeous novel left me gutted."
—Nicole Lundrigan, author of Hideaway and An Unthinkable Thing
"A story of loyalty, identity, obsession, and fear, When We Fell Apart is complex, smart, and hold-your-breath cinematic. Wiley has pulled off a stunning feat of insightful, unflinching storytelling, exploring the ways we strive and hope, succeed and fail—both as people and societies, and the damage we can all do with even the best of intentions."
—Grace O'Connell, author of Be Ready for the Lightning
"A complex, driving novel about the trap of belonging and the comfort of deception, Soon Wiley's When We Fell Apart is about all the different selves we present to each other."
—Naben Ruthnum, author of A Hero of Our Time
“When We Fell Apart is a masterful debut novel propelled by yearning, edge-of-your seat suspense, and characters who will break your heart. Soon Wiley channels the crackling energy of Seoul, injecting heat, noise, and sultry desire on every page. If this book does not compel you to figure out what makes you feel alive and follow your passion wherever it leads, nothing will.”
—Josh Rolnick, award-winning author of Pulp and Paper
“The business of being yourself is anything but simple, and Wiley’s powerful novel knows it.”
—Peter Behrens, award-winning author of Carry Me
“When We Fell Apart is an absolutely mesmerizing and important novel, delving into all sorts of issues that everyone will find relatable. This book is a page-turner, propelling the reader toward the conclusion, which is both surprising and perfectly rendered when reached. A bravado debut.”
—Don Lee, award-winning author of Yellow and Country of Origin
"Set in Seoul, this brooding literary thriller explores the complicated relationship between Yu-jin, a young South Korean woman from a powerful family, and Min, a biracial Korean American who feels as out of place in his mother’s birth country as he did in his native United States. Chapters alternate between Min and Yu-jin’s perspectives to weave a story about the struggle to fit in while remaining true to oneself."
—Poets & Writers
"There are parts of ourselves that only we know—parts that we don’t know how to reveal, even to those we spend the most time with, even to those who love us most. And then there are parts of ourselves that we haven’t yet discovered. When We Fell Apart, Soon Wiley’s debut novel, explores how these parts come to be known, and how keeping them hidden can be the undoing of relationships and lives."
“Fueled by deep feeling and a powerful sense of place, the book gains real emotional traction in capturing the despair of striving individuals pushed to the margins by conformist norms . . . A dark coming-of-age tale in the form of a mystery.”