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Are You Living the Life You Chose?: All the Beautiful Children by Choe Sihan

  • onJune 1, 2015
  • Vol.5 Autumn 2009
  • byKim Dongshik
All the Beautiful Children
2008
203pp.

This book is about the wanderings, agonies, and conflicts of teenagers. Their questions are always difficult for adults because they ask about things that adults try not to think about.

All the Beautiful Children is a coming of age novel that deals with teenagers by subtly describing the troubles and worries they endure in the school system. Since its first release in 1996, it has gone through 25 reprints and sold over 50,000 copies, situating it as a bestseller in the genre of young adult literature. A chapter of this book was even excerpted in a high school literature textbook. The latest edition was published in 2009 with its story and style skillfully revised.

Choe Sihan, a Korean literature professor at Sookmyung Women’s University, has published novels steadily since 1982. This book is the fruit of his interest in literary education for youth.

The author describes teenagers’ difficulties in school, their worries, and reflections about their lives, and their adolescent wanderings through the voices of the average student. Through five interconnected stories written in a diary style format, Seonjae the protagonist reveals his inner concerns that are typical for teenagers his age. Generally, either model students or problematic students draw attention in school. The author, however, pays no attention to these students. Instead, he focuses on the quiet, ordinary students. For example, Seonjae, whose parents have passed away, lives with his married sister and brother-in-law. His friend Yunsu is the laughingstock of his class because of his stammer.

So, what do Seonjae and Yunsu want? They want to live their lives their own way, not the way that their parents, school, or country force them to. When it comes to their literature class at school, they want to learn how to think for themselves after they read books instead of being taught about the books. They ceaselessly ask themselves who they are and what kind of life they want to lead because they realize they are the masters of their own behavior and thoughts. Yunsu says, “Until when was I a child, and until when will I be a teenager? I have been a human being from the moment I was born. My home is wherever I am. Even if I wander, that’s my life. I will not ask for forgiveness because of the life I choose.”

Questions from teenagers always give adults a hard time because they are the same questions that they themselves have either forgotten or tried to ignore. All the Beautiful Children, asks both teenagers and adults if they are living the life they chose. These young boys, who struggle to live their lives respectfully and to the fullest extent possible under an oppressive school system, are so impressive that they linger in the readers’ mind for a long time. 

 

By Kim Dongshik