Two North Korean orphaned girls become close friends as they mature, but this is no ordinary coming-of-age plot. By the end of the novel, the title has become a sad irony, as the girls are exploited, betrayed, and trafficked into prostitution. Though this story is very painful to read, with its harrowing and graphic details of sexual degradation, it commands the reader's empathy in bearing witness to the vile international sex trade.
Gi passed Il-sun on the stairway, neither acknowledging the other. Il-sun was grimacing as if she had just tasted something foul. The sun was not with her: Gone were the woman and springtime. For Gyong-ho, this alone was the worst part of losing her virginity, seeing Il-sun in such a state. It was more horrible than being stripped by the drunken imperialist. More loathsome than feeling his weight pressing her into the mattress. More vile than inhaling his toxic breath as he thrust his tongue inside her mouth. worse, even, than feeling her insides rip as he forced his way inside her. All that could be beautiful was now tarnished because Il-sun, herself, was tainted. Beauty itself had given up on beauty - what chance did she have of recovery?