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Fighting To Breathe, Third Edition
Jong Yi, author

Adult; General Fiction (including literary and historical); (Market)

A gripping story of one nurse's fight against racism in the medical industry, set against the horrific backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Unfortunately, the medical profession is not immune to racism, coupled with corruption and white privilege,” Yi, a nurse who has become an anti-racism advocate notes in introductory material to this, her debut novel. The story opens with nurse Ginger Kim, in Washington state, fighting to breathe. It’s March 10, 2020, and Kim is one of the first Americans to face Covid-19. (“We’re all going to get this thing before it’s through,” a paramedic says.) As Kim comes in and out of consciousness, she tries to convince the paramedics to take her to a different hospital than the one that’s closest—the one where she has worked and both witnessed and endured pervasive, alarming racism. Kim can’t quite tell the paramedics, but Yi tells the reader: She wanted to go “somewhere they wouldn’t let her die… …just because she was Korean.”

The novel’s perspective splits from there, as Yi follows both Kim’s treatment, often through the point-of-view of Hyun, another Korean RN, and Kim’s past, as the patient revisits her South Korean childhood, 1980’s Gwangju Uprising, her coming to America, and eventually the shocking behavior and treatment she experiences as a nurse: she’s marginalized, discriminated against, and eventually blamed for others’ failings. In the present, Hyun, too, faces all that, as well as the challenges of March 2020—uncertainty about treatments, a lack of PPE, and rapidly filling hospitals—as she fights to keep Kim alive.

Yi’s brief, tense narrative draws on her own experiences in nursing—and in striving to expose and eradicate discrimination and bias. For both characters, that’s part of the job, an extension of the mission of healing. Yi’s abbreviated treatment of Kim’s immigrant experience and her detailed, engaging dramatization of an early Covid case are compelling, but Fighting to Breathe is more powerful as truth telling than as novelistic storytelling, as what’s most urgent and memorable here is the revelation of all that nurses of color face as they care for us all.

Takeaway: Melvina Semper’s Discrimination Experienced in the Nursing Profession by Minority Nurses: Fifty True Stories from Nurses in New York City, Damon Tweedy’s Black Man in a White Coat.

Great for fans of: This brief, tense novel exposes the discrimination experienced by nurses of color from the vantage of the pandemic’s start.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A