Healing the Scars in a Child’s Heart: Yujin and Yujin by Lee Geumyi

  • onNovember 2, 2014
  • Vol.9 Autumn 2010
  • byKim Ji-eun
Yujin and Yujin

People often liken adolescence to a volcano. It is a time of repeated unexpected eruptions and dormancy. The quiet rage of this time period is preparation for sailing into the enormous abyss of self-reflection. As their bodies and hearts await physical flight, adolescents plan their provocation and eruption. The goal of youth at this age is to become independent from parents and find a space for one’s own thoughts and actions.

Parents and schools, however, worry about this natural eruption and flow of teen concerns. They make a great effort to initiate conversations out of fear that these eruptions may leave deep scars on the young lives or that a temporary misunderstanding of the world around them may solidify in their hearts.

Yujin and Yujin is a story about two young girls. They share not only the same name, but also a past hurt that they want to hide. First and foremost, they are both in the same class undergoing the turbulent adolescent years. The two girls want to “smash their heads” and “wish everything were a dream” because of their bodies and hearts’ desire to escape. They cannot look straight at their reflections maturing in the mirror. Their budding breasts and the start of menstruation are all too strange to acknowledge as something that is happening to them.

In their inability to look at themselves in the mirror lies their latent common experience of having been sexually abused in their childhood by their kindergarten director. While the tall Yujin is in the process of overcoming the problem in a healthy way with the support of her parents, the short Yujin suffers from a greater sense of deep-seated self-hatred and shame because of her parents, who try to deny the past. Her physical growth is even arrested because of her repressed feelings.

These two girls named Yujin don’t want to see the “other” for the same reason that they don’t want to see the “self” that was sexually assaulted. They uncover the cause of the emotions that they suffered and explode in pain. The following passage best captures what the author most wants to express in this book: “I didn’t think it was right for you—so young and green—not to be able to remember something that happened to you. You have to know it all and then overcome it. You know what’s a gnarl in a tree? It’s the scar from a wound in the trunk. Even if your heart has to bear a gnarl forever, I thought you should remember everything that happened.”

Even if we are no longer in our youth, each day of our lives poses a great fear, like “a box that we don’t want to open.” This is true for everyone. The author’s intent in giving the two main characters the same name signifies that our existence has the same large root in the subconscious, which is a source of comfort.

This work has been placed on the recommended reading lists of schools of every level and has had a steady readership since its first publication in 2004. The author Lee Geumyi is a popular author whose works one encounters most frequently on children’s bookshelves starting with Korean elementary school textbooks. In this work as well, the author demonstrates sharp insight into the sexual abuse of children and exceptional literary sensibility that reads the emotional flow of that age. This book was recently selected by Editions Philippe Picquier to be translated into French by Im Yeong-hee, the translator of Cat School. I expect the story of the two girls named Yujin to create quiet empathy in the youth of France and beyond.