Miles From Nowhere, published in 2008 by Riverhead, is Nami Mun’s first novel. The story is based in the 1980s in New York. The main character, Joon-Mee, is a twelve-year-old Korean-American. She leaves her family in the Bronx to live as a runaway in New York City.
The story follows her for six years. At first, she lives in a homeless shelter. She eventually finds work as an escort which turns into prostitution. From there, she falls into a life of crime and drug addiction.
Mun carefully depicts the raw desperation brought on by homelessness. To keep the novel in balance, she also inserts slivers of hope. Despite her circumstances living among homeless mothers, children, and strange men found in abandoned buildings and shelters, Joon-Mee believes she can start each day as a new beginning. She attempts to rehabilitate herself. Mun brings a sense of beauty and artistry to lives filled with such despair and ugliness.
In the course of the story, Joon-Mee meets several other characters who have a profound effect on her life. Wink, a veteran of the New York streets, teaches her how to survive. Benny becomes a love-interest for Joon-Mee as he struggles with his own drug addiction.
Joon-Mee encounters other characters that display random acts of kindness that make all the difference. When she finds herself in court, her public defender gives her a nail polish set after Joon gets out of jail. After Joon-Mee breaks up with a boyfriend, a friend gives Joon a place to stay and offers to go to Narcotics Anonymous meetings with her. These moments propel the story and intersperse a series of characters that are worth following.
The subject matter may be a challenge for some readers because of the sensitive and disturbing nature of the content. The narrative can at times be considerably sad and unsettling. Critics have noted the deft touch of Mun as she moves from hopelessness to beauty. With a turn of a phrase, an entire scene becomes cinematic, moving from a desperate situation to offering a semblance ofhope. Her characters frequently turn a mundane situation into something that the reader finds worthy of exploring.