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My Brilliant Life

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Member Reviews

I was judging the L.A. Times 2020 and 2021 fiction contest. It’d be generous to call what I’d been doing upon my first cursory glance—reading. I also don’t take this task lightly. As a fellow writer and lover of words and books, I took this position—in hopes of being a good literary citizen. My heart aches for all the writers who have a debut at this time. What I can share now is the thing that held my attention and got me to read on even though it was among 296 other books I’m charged to read.

Sometimes in life, the answer we search for so avidly reveals itself elsewhere, and the question we ask is born from a context that has nothing to do with the answer.
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Thank you so much to NetGalley and MacMillan Tor/Forge for my copy of My Brilliant Life by Ae-ran Kim in exchange for an honest review. It published January 26, 2021.
This book reminded me a bit of 5 Feet Apart. I appreciated reading this story from the teen's perspective with a terminal diagnosis. I found it to be raw, real, and interesting.
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Wonderful family story.  Beautiful, heartbreaking, funny.  A perfect family portrayal.  Relatable characters,  Loved it.  Makes you laugh, cry, and stays with you for a long time.
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Warmth, family stories, joy, disappointment, engaging, honest, heart happy are some of the words I would use in describing this book. You can’t help but get drawn in into their lives and may be think of memories of your own.
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I surprised myself in really quite liking this. I mean the story of a very sick kid with doting parents has been done so many time it feels like well-known territory. It’s sad and because it’s sad we need a lot of meaning and thoughtful commentary. And yet, I liked it.
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All the feels.

What a loving, empathetic story full of emotion. Parts of this story led me to my own life with my family and kept my brain thinking about my future. What do I want in life besides happiness? What is true happiness? Am I living my life to the absolute fullest? I have questions! 

I loved how this story weaved humor into topics of seriousness. I was laughing and feeling sad at the same time, hahaha.

Thank you MacMillan-Tor/Forge and Netgalley for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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I received a copy of the book from Netgalley to review. Thank you for the opportunity.
A unique and heart warming story that explores the MC life along with those of his family. It explores interesting themes and the writing is very readable. It draws you in immediately and doesnt let go. 
A good read.
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I really enjoyed this story and felt so emotionally invested in the main character that my heart hurt a little and the ending. It’s a slow read but it’s best enjoyed that way, there’s no details you want to skip over in this one.
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The narrator of this Korean novel in translation is Areum.  He suffers from progeria which causes him to age rapidly.  Though he is sixteen years old, he has the body of an eighty-year-old.  He decides to write his parents’ love story as a gift to them so the reader learns how they met, fell in love, and became parents at Areum’s age.  As his health deteriorates, Areum reflects on the lives of his parents and his own as well.  

This book may bring to mind other novels about teenagers with terminal illnesses like The Fault in our Stars by John Green or Five Feet Apart by Rachael Lippincott, but this one is better.  It is the characterization of Areum that is outstanding.  He is an intelligent and sensitive young man who possesses a maturity beyond his physical age.  For example, he has learned that “physical pain was a solitary endeavour” and that “when you love someone so much that it hurts, you have to run away.”   On the other hand, his behaviour can still show glimpses of adolescence appropriate to his actual age:  he would like to have a girlfriend and he is not always able to control his anger and resentment.  What stands out is his close relationship with his parents; rather than complain about his situation, he often focuses on trying to cheer them up.      

Areum’s life has major limitations, yet he tries to live fully despite them.  He finds enjoyment in his family, books, and the friendship with his neighbour.  When asked about what makes him want to live, he makes an extensive list:  “the faint sound of the lid of that jar [of uncooked rice] . . . clichéd trailers of a melodramatic movie . . . when celebrities I like joke on TV . . . when the gruff owner of the store in my neighborhood cries as he watches a drama on TV . . . when I see evening clouds that have all kinds of colors mixed together . . . When I see a nice word I didn’t know before . . . when I see prints of soccer cleats on the schoolyard, old underlined textbooks, soccer players who cry when they lose a game, girls talking loudly on the bus, hair in my mom’s comb. When I hear my father clipping his toenails, my upstairs neighbor flushing the toilet, the happy-new-years that people repeat year after year, a middle-aged man doing a terrible imitation of someone famous on an afternoon radio program.  When I see electronics that keep advancing beyond my imagination.  When I hear the languid gospel choir on the radio while doing physical therapy.  When I see the receipts piled up at home. . . . everything I see and hear around me is brilliant and gets me fired up.”

The ending is predictable, but the journey to that ending is engaging, made with an endearing protagonist, and eloquently described.  

Note:  I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley
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My review for Booklist is here:

The review was also cross-posted to Smithsonian BookDragon:
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*This book has been provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley for an honest review of mine*

3.5 out of 5 stars

A heart-warming story with a surprising twist and real characters that I'd remember for some time. Areum is a sixteen year old teenager who has a very rare sickness which makes his body and organs age from 4 to 10 times faster than normal person so he has 80 years old body and emotionally thinks he's older than his parents. He tells a story of his parents when they met, how their younger years went by, how much their lives changed when they learnt about their kid's illness at the age of 2 and how he is waiting for his death.

Areum's story-telling evolves from his parents' life to his own current world which becomes deeper, more sad, and heart-breaking. He wasn't dreaming much about future (except first kiss and soju) not to make himself and his parents suffer more, continuing to hang around with his 80-year old grandpa "friend", even made a face on TV.

I wish it were more meaty with deeper emotional reflections as the story is about ending life, fading light, and heart full of hope. I'll miss you, Areum!
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Great read. The author wrote a story that was interesting and moved at a pace that kept me engaged. The characters were easy to invest in.
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Areum is a chronically ill teenager suffering from progeria, a super rare disease that causes rapid aging. Most progeria patients don't live past their early '20s; Areum's condition deteriorates throughout the course of the book. Anticipating the end of his life, Areum is interviewing his parents and writing a manuscript detailing their love story to give them as a gift. It's heartbreaking to read about a family anticipating the death of a child, but I thought this plot device was an excellent way to develop characters in a hurry. I especially loved Areum's mom - she was so beautifully written and added a bit of comedic flair to an otherwise very heavy story.

Areum's voice is, I think, the most remarkable element of the story. He's young, but with a wealth of life experience that in many ways exceeds that of his parents. Knowing he has so little time left, Areum is wholly committed to being present. He celebrates the ordinary moments in life - jumping on a trampoline, finally beating his favorite video game, connecting with a new friend on the internet. He recognizes suffering is part of life, and considers his own mortality with the same even acceptance. I'm not particularly good at living in the moment, so Areum's perspective was a good reminder for me. I'll be thinking about this book for a while.
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What an interesting story! Areum tells the story of his parents and ultimately himself. He is diagnosed with a rare disease that causes him to age prematurely and is fatal and because of this he decides he wants to learn as much as he can about everything. He starts writing and he tells the story of his parents meeting, and becoming pregnant with him at the age of 16. They are children themselves and then they find out their child has this rate disease. I enjoyed this book, it was an easy read, but very sad. 

Thank you to Netgalley and Macmillan Tor/Forge for the eARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.
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If you can, imagine what it would be like to age four to ten times faster than an average person; to know that you will face blindness one day; that you could have a heart attack with complications at any time, perhaps death.  Before your 17th birthday.  This is Areum’s story.  He has Progeria, also known as Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome, accelerated aging disease.  Areum is a South Korean boy who was born to a family with no means to support a child in this state.  But Areum was a reader and a writer.  He wanted to present a written story of his parents’ falling in love as a gift to them.  You will laugh and cry at the many stories played out from beginning to end.  Touching and heartwarming, a brilliant life indeed.
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This is a quick read about a 16 year old boy in South Korea who has a mysterious disease that causes him to age too quickly. 
I did not realize it was a YA novel until after I started reading it. 
I probably would not have requested it if I'd ever known.  But, it is a thoughtful, quiet book that brings up a lot of questions.
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My Brilliant Life by Kim Ae-ran is “the story of the youngest parents and oldest child in the world.” Sixteen-year-old Areum is born to teenage parents and is soon diagnosed with the rare disease of progeria. Although Areum knows he is rapidly fading he chooses to live in the moment. In the time he has left, he spends his days putting together the story of how his parents met, writing emails to a girl he met online, and cracking jokes with his 60-year-old neighbour and best friend Little Grandpa Jang. Areum keeps the reality at bay most times but it’s not long before some truths become too hard to bear.

Areum seems to be wise beyond his years, perhaps a result of being aware of how short his time is. He has a wicked sense of humour but is also given to reflection. He is given some of the best lines in the book and I loved the depth and simplicity in them

“I didn’t read for the love of knowledge but rather with the anxiety of someone who would be the sole survivor when the world ended.”

“Why does a child always look like a child, no matter how old he is?
A sudden thought flashed through my head. Maybe that was why people had children.
To relive the life they don’t remember.
That made sense. Nobody remembered their early years. You couldn’t remember anything that happened to you from before you were three or four, so you wanted to experience it through your child.”

The first half of the book was charming and delightful. You almost forget that Areum is special. The latter half of the book falters a little bit with the email exchanges between Areum and his online friend. This section felt more apt as a tv series screenplay where I could visualise the scene very vividly. Somehow, the momentum gets disrupted here. 

That apart, My Brilliant Life is a tender and poignant read. In some ways, it reminded me of Flowers for Algernon, a book that really moved me. Aeran’s sensitivity to the passage of time, his celebration of quotidian events, and his quiet acceptance of life as it is, are some of the reminders he leaves behind for us readers even after he is gone. 

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC!

PS: There’s a movie based on the book and has got good reviews. Curious to see how it has been adapted!
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A quieter, more introspective story. I liked the second half, dealing with the main character's parents and their teen pregnancy, a little better than the second half, but all in all it was a bittersweet and quick read.
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This was a book that definitely grew on me the more I read it. I really liked Areum and his family, and the moments shared between them. I also loved the way the author played with the idea of time and of aging, and the way that the roles of old and young, parent and child, were twisted around. It's ultimately a story of family and the ways our stories unfold in life, woven between myth and reality.
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I didn’t care for the  book as much as I hoped. I liked the neighbor character a lot but the rapidly aging main character was really boring. I felt like it was emotionally manipulative yet strangely flat.
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