What Is the Meaning of My Death?: I Died One Day by Lee Kyunghye

  • onJune 1, 2015
  • Vol.5 Autumn 2009
  • byKim Ji-eun
I Died One Day

A friend’s death leaves unbearable pain in his young, sensitive friends. However, Jaejun left behind a question about the value of life as well as pain.

Lee Kyunghye’s book, I Died One Day is a famous steady seller in the genre of Korean young adult literature. Though the title refers to death, the novel’s theme is about the value of life. Jaejun, a middle school student, dies in a motorcycle accident. Jaejun’s friend Yumi starts to wonder what Jaejun was really like and what his life meant. With the help of Jaejun’s diary, Yumi tries to rebuild the life Jaejun had lived.

The emotional issues of adolescence, a period commonly known for its angst, are not new to literature. However, this book indefatigably explores the inner psychology of disobedience in an honest way. Most adults talk to adolescents in a commanding tone, telling them the dos and don’ts as if to control their lives. The fact is that adolescents are not interested in the model life that adults emphasize; they are more interested in their own development, friendships, and finding their identity.

There is no commanding tone in this book. In the eyes of adolescents, adults are no longer trustworthy; teachers teach without regard to the students and parents are too busy with their own problems to think about their children. The adolescents themselves are not satisfied with their aimless wandering. Yumi was an optimistic girl who wasted her teenage years by believing she would at least enter high school at the end of her wanderings. Then her best friend Jaejun passed away before going to high school–a time period she had assumed that they would share. Jaejun’s death gives unbearable pain to his sensitive young friends. However, he left behind questions about the value of life as well as pain. Yumi concludes, “I have to grow up and live life to the fullest, not only for me, but also for my friend, who no longer can.” It is also the first true decision that she gives to herself.

First published in April 28, 2004, this book has been read for over five years. Lee Kyunghye’s outstanding stories include the fantasy story Last Bat Princess, Migaya. She excels at describing a character’s inner psychology. Her latest stories have drawn attention once again; they are parodies of traditional Korean stories.

Many Korean teenagers, under extreme pressure to enter prestigious universities, are told what to do by adults. However, there are more than a few who escape from such competition and work hard to grow as independent people. For these few, Jaejun and Yumi’s honest attitudes towards life could be encouraging. That must be why I Died One Day continues to gain new fans. 


By Kim Ji-eun