Between the World and Me: Through the Eyes of an Asian Teen

In his ground-breaking novel, Coates tackles the struggle of African Americans through letters to his son. But what does this all mean for an Asian teenager?

“ You are the bearer of a body more fragile than any other in this country.”


These were the words of Ta-Nehisi Coates to his son in his novel Between the World and Me. In his epistolary memoir, Coates, an American author and journalist, attempts to explain to his son about his own fear and insecurities on this “terrible and beautiful world.” As a man who faced discrimination at a young age, Coates traces his own experience and intertwines it with examples today to touch on one of the most sensitive and grave issues of America today: the lives of African Americans.

I am a Korean Australian teenage girl who has fortunately experienced little racism. The most serious encounter being only when three Australian boys yelled at me “die Chinese girl! Die” as I was entering my mom’s car. Worse, I have seldom witnessed racism in the lives of Blacks. For me, my connection with them was through texts: the countless U.S. history textbooks that fill the chapters with the Civil War, the lengthy essays and speeches in AP Lang prompts that inundate students with topics on slavery and equality, the limitless passages in the SAT that continuously highlight the Black struggle. My relationship with racism was felt inauthentically. They never felt tangible.

When you enter Mr. Brondel’s class and see the screen with the word “slavery”; when you flip over to the essay prompt as Mr. v starts the timer; when you open the SAT package and the proctor says “start the reading section”; you groan and sigh to find that the topic is on African Americans again. Even I as someone who tries to appreciate texts, it is at times frustrating to read about a topic that I have so little relation to.

However, Coates’ use of rich language drew me in to take a peek at their lives. The use of ‘body’ as a fragile belonging of African Americans elucidates what it means to live in fear. For us, the body is just an identity that we own. But for Coates, it is a precarious, delicate part of their lives that could be broken, stolen, or even abused: a part of his son’s life that is prone to be vulnerable. Coates, by doing so, makes such struggle real; the multitude of textbooks, prompts, passages in my shelf slowly took form into life. For once, the words and feelings started to make sense.


Some of my fellow peers, on the other hand, may argue the contrary. I asked my friend the other day whether or not she could empathize with the struggle of African Americans. She told me that she did because she was once an Asian in a country of White. Sure, perhaps she felt excluded from the majority. Sure, she may feel as if she was marginalized. But as I was reading Between the World and Me, I realized how her thought, which many other teenagers around me may agree, is false. The African American’s fight for equality is so unique and ingrained in such complex heritage that it cannot be generalized to mere ‘racism’ or ‘discrimination.’ No matter how much I face marginalization or discrimination, I can never fully understand, empathize, or feel their pain and fear. Their experience and story are distinctive; it isn’t something we can completely understand.

But by no means am I saying that we should all now relinquish our fight for equality just because we cannot wholly feel their experience. I am not in any way pitying their lives or degrading ourselves. I am just arguing the need to realize that the struggle of African Americans can never be completely felt by those who say that they were merely excluded in a society. I do not know what the solution is to gaining equality for all race and peoples. But what I do know is that Coates has shown me that the struggles are more profound, more complex, more humane than just a chapter in a textbook or a passage on an exam. And for that, I want to thank Coates for showing me a glimpse of their lives and for making my connection to them more real.

– Sarah Se-Jung Oh (’19)

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KIS HS English Teachers’ Favorite Books

Ever wondered what your English teacher’s favorite book is? Find out their favorite books only on Blueprint! Featuring Ms. Clarke, Mr. Collings, Mr. Miller, Ms. Pate, and Mr. van Moppes.

Reading is one of the most rewarding experiences that everyone can have regardless of one’s gender, race, ethnicity or social status. It enables us to empathize with others, learn about humanity, and improve ourselves into compassionate people. For me, reading novels has not only been a pastime but my counselor and friend; books have taught me to live wholeheartedly and authentically, to strive towards my goal.

Just as how each and every one of us has at least one favorite book that influenced our lives, KIS HS English teachers also have their many favorites. In an attempt to discover insights into their favorite books, Blueprint has interviewed several English teachers.

Ms. Clarke

jane eyre

  1. What is your favorite book?

I will choose my favorite classic- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.

  1. Why is it your favorite book?

I’ll admit I first read this book in grade 9 because I shared a first name with it. I loved this book because of the heroine, Jane. It was a book I read at just the right moment: 9th grade, when I must have been looking for some unique and memorable female role-models in the stories I was reading. Jane Eyre is one of those: deeply introspective, guided by strong beliefs, and absolutely her own person. This was the first British Gothic/Romantic book I’d ever read; the supernatural, dramatic elements of the story compelled me. There’s nothing quite like a story with unexpected, shocking twists, and Victorian literature is full of them!

  1. How has it impacted your life?

After I read Jane Eyre, I choose The Eyre Affair (a modern British Alternative History/Sci-Fi/Mystery novel) for a 10th grade English project. It is this weird, funny, fast-paced story that let me realize/ enjoy being a bookworm. As you read it, you get to enjoy all these allusions, inside jokes, and alternate narratives that stem from Jane Eyre and other classics. The sequence of those two books helped me realize how much genuine enthusiasm and fun I found in the act of reading, and in the use of imagination and attention to detail that exists in so much good fiction/writing.

  1. What line(s) strikes you as insightful?

“I am no bird, and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will…”

“I would always rather be happy than dignified.”

“I have an inward treasure born with me, which can keep me alive if all extraneous delights should be withheld, or offered only at a price I cannot afford to give.”

Mr. Collings


  1. What is your favorite book?

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey.

  1. Why is it your favorite book?

I love the way it presented the need for civil disobedience and the way people can use it to bring down the combine. It speaks to me on a higher level and shows the importance to practice civil disobedience in my daily life, but also to understand the consequences for participating in it as well. The cause needs to be bigger than the individual. Plus it is hysterical. It makes me laugh every time, even though I have read it on numerous occasions.

  1. How has it impacted your life?

Ken Kesey’s story impacted me by the way it showed me to challenge my thinking, and to fight against the combine. I believe my work as a teacher is the same kind of work that McMurphy was doing in the story. I see education as greater than myself, and because of that I am willing to fight for the way it can be most impactful for my students.

  1. What line(s) strikes you as insightful?

“‘But I tried, though,’ he says. ‘Goddammit, I sure as hell did that much, now, didn’t I?'” (Kesey 111)

“It’s too late to stop it now. McMurphy did something to it that first day, put some kind of hex on it with his hand so it won’t like I order it. There’s no sense to it, any fool can see; I wouldn’t do it on my own. Just by the way the nurse is staring at me with her mouth empty of words I can see I’m in trouble, but I can’t stop it. McMurphy’s got hidden wires hooked to it, lifting it slow just to get me out of the fog and into the open where I’m fair game. He’s doing it, wires… No. That’s not the truth. I lifted it myself.” (Kesey 126)

“And we’re sitting there lined up in front of the blanked-out TV, watching the grey screen just like we could see the baseball game clear as day, and she’s ranting and screaming behind us. If somebody’d of come in and took a look, men watching a blank TV, a fifty-year old woman hollering and squealing at the back of their heads about discipline and order and recriminations, they’d of thought the whole bunch of us were crazy as loons.” (Kesey 128)

Mr. Miller


  1. What is your favorite book? (title and author)

River Town by Peter Hassler

  1. Why is it your favorite book?

Hessler’s work is admirable and speaks to many of the sensations I have personally felt while living abroad.  As Hessler starts to learn Mandarin, he attains a Chinese identity when he is given a Chinese name—“Ho-Wei.”  The disparity he feels between his Chinese self and his American self-reads like a version of “Borges and I” with the dual identity theme of “author-self” and   “self” taking shape for the visitor to a foreign land. Hessler’s personal descriptions of the alienation and fascination of living in a foreign land ring true to the style I would like to create in my travel writing.

  1. How has it impacted your life?

When I lived in Taiwan, the students laughed at my Chinese name, “Yue Han” (约翰) which consists of two characters–the first means “promise” and the second means “writing.” It is a good name for a writer. The idea of a “foreign self” and a “local self” is an idea that I take from Hessler and regularly use in travel narratives.

Ms. Pate


  1. What is your favorite book? (title and author)

I have so many favorites! I usually claim The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, Beloved by Toni Morrison, or A Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood as my favorite, though.

  1. Why is it your favorite book?

Each of these books has compelling character arcs and some sort of tragic abyss. I am a character-driven reader; I need to get into the main character’s head and root for him/her. All of these books also draw me in with the beauty and poetic richness of their language. While they all involve deeply troubled or injured characters, they also contain some of my favorite sentences in the English language.

  1. How has it impacted your life?

The Sparrow captured my imagination and love of adventure; the other two books have shaped my transition from Social Studies to English. They are all books that I have read multiple times 🙂

  1. What line(s) strikes you as insightful?

So many! I could have chosen a huge list, but I thought I’d just add a couple from Handmaid’s Tale and Beloved. The Sparrow has wonderful language, but it’s not about the language the way that the other two are.

Handmaid’s Tale: “Night falls. Or has fallen. Why is it that night falls, instead of rising, like the dawn? Yet if you look east, at sunset, you can see night rising, not falling; darkness lifting into the sky, up from the horizon, like a black sun behind cloud cover. Like smoke from an unseen fire, a line of fire just below the horizon, brushfire or a burning city. Maybe night falls because it’s heavy, a thick curtain pulled up over the eyes. Wool blanket.”

Beloved: “She is a friend of my mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order.”

Mr. van Moppes


  1. What is your favorite book?

Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk  

  1. Why is it your favorite book?

It just felt so prescient when I read it. Like it was a lens into the future. It examines conspicuous consumption, globalization, marginalization, minimalism, greed, isolation, etc.   

  1. How has it impacted your life?

It reminds me of the true value of things, what is truly important, what matters as a human being. Love, tangible relationships, freedom of thought.

  1. What line(s) strikes you as insightful?

The things you used to own, now they own you.”

“The lower you fall, the higher you’ll fly.”

So often, we forget to ask the teachers about their favorites. However, as shown in the interviews, KIS English teachers have a vast array of their favorite books, whether that is classic or modern. Perhaps, students can attempt to read the department’s books and discover how they impact their own lives.

– Sarah Se-Jung Oh (’19)

Featured Image: Crescentia Jung (’19)





Book Review: When Breath Becomes Air

A memoir so human, deep, and breath-taking.

Holding a delicate small figure in his hands, he brings the new human close to his chest. As her eyes slowly opened up to view the world, Paul knew that this was why he pursued his job as a neurosurgeon: to discover the meaning of life. For him, the child was a valuable being—someone’s first daughter, cousin, and grand-daughter.


An Indian American neurosurgeon and writer, Paul Kalanithi graduated from Stanford University and earned a Bachelor and Master in both literature and human biology, two rather contrasting subjects. After earning his degree, he took philosophy at Cambridge University wherein he became curious about what life is. To discover answers to his questions, Kalanithi joined a medical team at Yale university as he believed that neurology—the subject that deals with the birth and science behind human knowledge—would help him. After ceaselessly working in the operation room and explaining to the patients the reason for the failure of a surgery in the white beds, Kalanithi himself ended up lying on the same patient’s bed, feeling hopeless and despair due to a terminal cancer. In an effort to share his experience as a doctor and then a patient, Kalanithi wrote a memoir even till his death in March 2015.



“Even if you are perfect, the world isn’t. The secret is to know that the deck is stacked, that you will lose, that your hands or judgment will slip, and yet still struggle to win for your patients. You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving.”

The novel is divided into two parts, the first about his experience as a doctor and the latter as a patient. What fascinated me most is the former section in which he shares his initial drive to undertake the job of a doctor. Students these days, especially Koreans, are sensitive to the divide between liberal arts and STEM for both the students and parents hold misconceptions on the two areas. Take KIS students for instance: many of my friends who claim to be more on the STEM side set their entire high school courses and extracurriculars solely to those pertaining subjects, such as biology or maths. Even I, as a student who is still struggling to discover her career, have always believed that I should belong to english or maths. As I heard great praises from my teachers and peers on my writing, I expected that liberal arts was the path for me, urging me to preclude any possibility of learning maths or science. However, after reading When Breath Becomes Air, I began to open up the doors to both areas because they complement one another. It fascinated me how Kalanithi could pursue both literature and human biology as they are rather disparate areas that seem odd to be studied together. Nevertheless, his point of view on how they led him to become a more mature and knowledgeable person revolutionized the divide between English and science; Kalanithi claims that though “literature provided the richest material for moral reflection,” he felt that it was “missing the messiness and weight of real human life,” which explains why he took on neurology.


Another beautiful part of this novel is how the author writes his experiences in a clear voice that really speaks to the audience. I used to have a negative view on doctors as I felt as if they were mostly corrupt due to the media depiction of them today. But he intertwines illuminating lines when explaining about the surgeries he conducted that compel the readers to view doctors as utterly humane people who experience the value of life, making me even further empathize with my own father who is a doctor as well.

“The physician’s duty is not to stave off death or return patients to their old lives, but to take into our arms a patient and family whose lives have disintegrated and work until they can stand back up and face, and make sense of, their own existence.”

Despite how impressive and alluring the novel is, there were some aspects of the novel that I was disappointed with, including the epilogue and the interjections of famous lines. Though numerous fans find the epilogue from Kalanithi’s wife as the apex of the novel that made them weep, I found the epilogue rather dry compared to the author’s strong voice. As the ending of the memoir was a potent saying from the author to his daughter, I expected that the novel would end there, leaving the readers with tears and excitement. However, when I read the epilogue afterwards, it did not make me feel that heart-warming feel I got from Kalanithi’s words since his writing is stronger than that of his wife. Another part of the memoir that I disliked was how the author includes famous saying from other famous authors. Although I was able to grasp some of the quotes, there were many that I was not able to comprehend, digressing the novel away from me.


Nevertheless, When Breath Becomes Air is a heartfelt novel that I believe will resonate with me for a long time as it has taught me not only the value of life but also what it means to be a knowledgeable, humane person. If students are more aware that there is no set formula of courses to be prosperous in the future, they will become more successful in the future and enjoy their learning. After all, Kalanithi has proven to us that regardless of whether the subject you undertake is on the STEM or liberal arts side, if you have the passion and will to take value from the things you do, you will be content with your work and life.

—Sarah Se-Jung Oh (’19)

Featured Image:     kalanithi/

Top 10 Winter Break Reads

Looking for some books to read over winter break? Grab a warm cup of tea and try these winter break reads!

Winter break is just around the corner—just a couple of days left! As our lives have been inundated with an incessant amount of assignments and exams, we finally have time to take a break from school. One way of resting up over the break for the new year and semester is to read some novels that you couldn’t possibly catch up during school. Below are top 10 novels that I, as an avid reader, recommend to get your mind off from work! 

1. Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

Genre: Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Mental Health


Tracing the life of a young boy who has schizophrenia, Challenger Deep takes the readers through the mind of Caden Bosch. As he is sent to a mental hospital for treatment, Bosch creates a second world inside his mind that is unlike reality: he is the artist of a ship that is headed for Challenger Deep, the south of Mariana Trench. Using simple yet beautiful prose, Schusterman leads the readers into a whole new world where imagination and reality are inseparable, whilst he reveals the truth behind the curtains of mental hospitals. A perfect book to get you out of your reading slump!

“Dead kids are put on pedestals, but mentally ill kids get hidden under the rug.”



2. Station Eleven by Emily Mandel


Genre: Fiction, Science Fiction, Dystopian


A seemingly dark and sentimental novel, Station Eleven features a world twenty years after a devastating plague. However, one cannot call it a simple survival novel. Shifting back and forth from the current world where Kirsten, the main character,  watches King Lear to a desolate world where she faces isolation and killings, Mandel compares the modern world to that of an apocalyptic beautifully that it makes us appreciate the things we have today: laptops, phones, and even newspapers, raising important questions about the world: Why doesn’t a desolate world urge people to a common goal? Is it better to govern or be governed? Should we teach the children about the previous world? Poetically writing with the strategic diction and pauses, Mandel crafts the each one of the characters so intricately that the you immediately fall in love with them, a rare occurrence in apocalyptic novels.

““First we only want to be seen, but once we’re seen, that’s not enough anymore. After that, we want to be remembered.”

3. The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan W. Watts

Genre: Philosophy, Spirituality, Self Help


More scholarly than the other books but nevertheless invaluable, this book discusses the need for people to find balance in an age where we worry greatly about the future and the past. It is an excellent book to read especially after weeks of hectic assignments and exams as you can start to apply Watts’s teachings of how to immerse yourself into the present to real life! As a student who is frequently insecure, this book plain spoken to me as it shifted my perspective on how to alleviate the anxieties I face everyday. Although some concepts are abstruse and heavy to comprehend, Watts integrates metaphors to help guide the reader, reminding us the beauty of using metaphors even in non-fiction.

“If, then, my awareness of the past and future makes me less aware of the present, I must begin to wonder whether I am actually living in the real world.”


4. The Color Purple by Alice Walker


Genre: Classic, Fiction, Historical Fictional


Focusing on two colored sisters that live in south side of America, The Color Purple touches on a variety of topics: racism, feminism, and more. The two sisters face grave situations wherein they are harmed and violated by men- one of the reasons why this novel is frequently listed for American Library Association’s Most Challenged Books. Regardless of the graphic language and scenes, the novel has a much deeper side to is as it depicts not only the history of the early 1900s but also the gravity of feminism in its history. The novel may be challenging to read at first as it uses odd formatting, but it gets better as you read. I would recommend that you read the first couple of pages out loud to understand the text.

“I think us here to wonder, myself. To wonder. To ask. And that in wondering bout the big things and asking bout the big things, you learn about the little ones, almost by accident. But you never know nothing more about the big things than you start out with. The more I wonder, the more I love.”

5. Expiration Day by William Powell

Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopian


Sometimes as high-school students, we are urged to read more classical books like Crime and Punishment and Macbeth. But sometimes, we need to read some teenage novels that brings the nostalgic feelings from our teenage years. A science fiction novel that ties in artificial intelligence with humanity, this novel depicts a world where nearly all the children are robots, except a few of those who are humans. Tania, who believes that she is a human, sets out to discover the reasons behind the division and whether or not she is truly a human. This novel is much more in-depth compared to what I first believed as it questions the existence of humans and our lives if we cannot distinguish between AI’s and humans.

“What rational being would willingly enter a relationship that’s guaranteed to end in sorrow? Grieving husband buries wife, or vice versa. Or they divorce. But we marry anyway. Because even death and divorce is better than loneliness.”

6. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Genre: Mystery, Fiction, Thriller


Need something that will keep you on the edge of your seat? Well, The Girl on the Train is the right book. Riding the same commuter everyday, Rachel watches a young couple from a distance for a few split seconds every day and imagines them to be a perfect couple. However, one night, as Rachel forgets her actions, she entangles everyone into an investigation, including the couple she saw. Told through three perspectives, the novel gets perplexing at times; nevertheless, the characters and plot are well-constructed that you start becoming eager for the next page. Great book that will make you stay up till 3 am!

“Hollowness: that I understand. I’m starting to believe that there isn’t anything you can do to fix it. That’s what I’ve taken from the therapy sessions: the holes in your life are permanent. You have to grow around them, like tree roots around concrete; you mold yourself through the gaps”

7. What if? by Randall Munroe

Genre: Science, Humour


For science nerds and non-science lovers alike, this book is an intriguing book for you to engage in your passion or just to learn about the science behind the world. Ranging from questions like ‘ From what height would you need to drop a steak for it to be cooked when it hit the ground?’ to ‘Is it possible to build a jetpack using downward firing machine guns?’ this book has great value to it since you can learn about scientific facts, both basic and complex. It can also build your common sense about the world, too!

“But I’ve never seen the Icarus story as a lesson about the limitations of humans. I see it as a lesson about the limitations of wax as an adhesive.”


8. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes


Genre: Romance, Fiction


If you think this is a cliche teenage romance novel like The Fault in the Stars, you’re wrong. Me Before You  has much more depth and meaning, at least to me, than just simple love line; it reminds us about what it means to have a voice, a choice in life. Featuring a rather ill-tempered, disabled man and a young, energetic woman, the book shows the two fall in love despite the barriers that separate them. The male protagonist’s decision at the end of the novel just plain spoke to me about how precious and beautiful the choices we make in life are, and that sometimes, you can’t make someone to become the person you want. You’ve got to read it and experience it for Moyes creates the two characters elegantly and builds up to the climax beautifully. Even the conversations between the the two will make you weep in tears.

“How could you live each day knowing that you were simply whiling away the days until your own death?”


9. Harry Potter by J.K Rowling


Genre: Fantasy


Why not throw in a childhood favorite? As you probably know or heard, the Harry Potter series is a phenomenal book for many children. Students, however, never really get the chance to re-read those books that we used to read since we are so focused on academics. However, this winter, take the opportunity to rekindle the memories of your childhood while remembering Hermione’s sassy line, “It’s LeviOsa, not LeviosA,”and the enchanting wonders of Hogwarts!

“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”


10. Daring Greatly by Brene Brown


Genre: Self Help, Psychology


One of my all-time favorites, Daring Greatly discusses the importance of building shame resilience, revealing ourselves authentically, and being vulnerable. She explains how vulnerability lets us connect with one another and build compassion, whilst hiding our weakness and imperfection would make us isolated. Touching on a variety of subjects like sexism and parenting, this novel is continuing to help me grow confidence and acceptance of who I am. Strongly recommended to all students—don’t fear your imperfection, just accept who you are! Perfect book to end 2016 and kick-start to 2017!

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity.”

As high school students, it is no doubt difficult to fit in reading time with the large amount of assessments. Yet with the winter break approaching, you can catch up with all the reading you missed out on—and possibly even accomplish your reading goal! Regardless of which you books you read, I am sure that they will give you a new perspective wherein you can learn and empathise with.

—Sarah Se-Jung Oh (’19)

*Banner: Crescentia Jung (’19)