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The Thing You Can't Change

The letter below is part of an ongoing series featuring letters from authors to their teen selves. If you're a published author who'd like to participate in this series, we'd love to have you. Just click here and let us know you're interested. Today's guest is Grace K. Shim, author of The Noh Family, which came out earlier this month.


Dear Teen Grace,

I know what you’re thinking…mainly because I was you. But also because the teenage years were a time when you didn’t want to be different from everyone else but also a time when you were one of two Korean-Americans at your high school (your sister was the other one). Suffice it to say, despite what your stack of back-dated Seventeen magazines all claimed, this was not the best time of your life.

As a freshman at a fairly new school you didn’t have that many friends (harsh but true). Still, the worst part of this time in your life was not that you didn’t get asked to any of the school dances or that you spent the weekends watching a crap ton of Blockbuster movies at home alone. No, the worst part about this time in your life, the thing that breaks my heart the most to remember, was that you did not want to be Korean.

Grace as a teenager

Even though you were born at the same hospital as many of your peers, attended the same preschool, got your ears pierced at the same Claire’s boutique—people treated you differently because your outside appearance did not match theirs. They thought because you were Asian that you didn’t have the same upbringing as they did. And that type of rejection particularly hurt because of all the things you could change to fit in better (your hair, your clothes, even your social etiquette) the one thing you could not ever change was your ethnic background.

The thing is, as I write this letter to you and think about what I could say to alleviate any of your struggles, I’m not sure I want to. Sure there are plenty of things I deeply regret about that time (the perm that definitely didn’t help win you any popularity points, or your terrible taste in 90s action movies) but the parent in me (spoiler: you will have 3 kids) wants to tell you to tough it out. Because it’s the process that gives you what you need to get you where you need to go. Trust me when I say, not wanting to help you at your worst is actually helping you. You will be able to write much more meaningful stories for teens, which is far more rewarding than getting asked to any school dance.

Writing and being a published author was a dream I never thought I could accomplish until I did. To deal with all the rejection in publishing (including the self-rejection) isn’t for the faint of heart. Many times I wanted to quit and many times I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and started typing away with more determination. So my message to you today is that I can’t fix your problems, no one can. You’re going to have to do that yourself in time. But what I can say is that I see your struggles and I feel your pain and sometimes that recognition is all we need to make it through the tough times.

Oh and one last thing—please don’t be mad or resentful to the only other person of color in the popular group who chose to ignore you. I know that it especially hurt to be snubbed by someone who knows what you’re going through the most, but it’s not her fault. She was going through her own struggles and was doing her best, too.




About The Author: Grace K. Shim grew up as one of two Korean-Americans at her Oklahoma high school. Today, she writes the Korean-American protagonists that she wished she had as a teen. Her most recent book is The


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