Growing up is tough.
It’s even tougher when you’re 12 and your best friend skips a grade and goes off to high school, leaving you behind to pick up the pieces of what you thought was going to be forever.
That’s the premise of Michelle Kim’s debut novel “Running Through Sprinklers.”
In it, Nadine Ando and Sara Smith have known each other their whole lives. They’re best friends and as far as Sara is concerned, they might live at separate houses and have different names but they might as well be the same person. Then, summer ends — and a friendship that was supposed to last forever is ending. In its place, Sara discovers what it means to grow up and that change might not be as bad as it seems.
Kim grew up in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada, and later moved to London, England, to work for BBC. Kim’s career began with writing, but shifted to acting and filmmaking after her initial deal with a Canadian publisher fell through. She moved to Vancouver when she began to seriously pursue a career in film and acting. Her first feature “The Tree Inside” was released in 2015. Kim worked on short films “Red Moon” and “In Waiting.”
She later transferred these experiences into her novel, which she had abandoned for years. From conception to publication, it took 15 to 18 years for “Running Through Sprinklers” to come into existence.
It’s really a coming-of-age story. What theme do you personally think it reflects of middle school and that period of your life?
Loss is a big one. [My debut feature] “The Tree Inside” was also about loss and how to deal with that. A heartbreak and friendship, family, love. I just wrote it, I didn’t think too deeply about it. It was such a joy to remember what it was like being a kid, and I really wanted to do something about that particular area — you know, the West Coast, the suburbs, and how multicultural it is. I just really wanted to have the fact that [Sara and Nadine] were Asian, for it to be so normalized in a book.
In fact, my editor and I intentionally decided not to italicize any of the Korean words, even though they’re not in the Merriam-Webster dictionary and whatnot, even though that’s the normal standard. We decided to not italicize any of those words so that it is normalized in the story, and that everything just blends together.
Sara’s Korean Canadian, and then Nadine and Jen are Japanese Canadian, yes?
So, why do you think representation is important in literature and other forms of media?
Well, because it’s actually what’s happening. It’s just a reflection — art should reflect what’s going on in society and in our society, especially where I’m from, it’s incredibly diverse. I’m half-Korean. It’s a different pool of issues.
Have you had any kids read it? Have they given you any feedback on how they feel about it?
Yeah, I did! [A friend of mine] had a daughter in grade 12. So, I gave her a copy to her kid and then she says her daughter liked it and I thought, “Oh, well, she’s just being nice.” And then, her daughter strolls in. She was like, ‘This book is my life! I was up crying in my room to my friend at night. It was the best book I’d ever read!’ It was such a gift because that was really unexpected, to hear that at all, and it really meant a lot.
How have older audiences responded to “Running Through Sprinklers?”
I think a lot of women my age have been liking it because it takes them back to that time period. I don’t know if you can tell, but it sort of ends up being in the ’90s, there’s some things about it that hint that it’s the ’90s. There’s also this nostalgic vibe to it — I had a friend describe it as “half-Asian ‘The Wonder Years.'”
What do you want the people to leave the book with having felt, or learned or experienced from reading it?
I want people to remember the importance of female friendship, remember their childhood, remember their best friends, their current best friends, their former best friends and remember they’re meaningful. A friend of mine told me about a quote that was something along the lines of: “One day, you went out to play with your friends but you didn’t realize it was gonna be the last time.”
What do you ultimately want to achieve with the book? Any personal goals you want to have met with the novel?
It was such a struggle to get this book out there. I’m just grateful that it’s actually published. I didn’t actually celebrate that much until I held the hardcover in my hands because it’s been a really tough journey to get it out into the world. The fact that it’s just out there is enough for me.
I’ll make another plan, a new dream, a new goal. I should probably write something else. I might try to write something else because I’m actually just looking forward to writing again. It’s funny, I feel like a writer spends so much time agonizing over getting published and they forget that the best part was the writing.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers? What have you learned from this experience?
I think one of the biggest things is that you shouldn’t put too much pressure on it.
I think my journey is a bit of an example, where when I was really focusing on the book and agonizing over it, it wasn’t really working. But when I moved onto film, there was more lightheartedness around the book when I didn’t put that much pressure on it or myself. So I think that of course there’s dedication, you have to actually put the hours in, but I think a big one is — I learned this from Elizabeth Gilbert — you don’t want to rely on your creativity to make money.
You start to make different choices and think about how you’re going to make a living out of this. I think it goes back to do it for the pure joy and because you enjoy writing, and then whatever happens, happens. For me, I wrote this book in little bits every once in a while – it wasn’t linear. Like, I wrote some scenes from the end in the beginning.
You don’t have to write a book in a linear way.
Any new projects on the horizon?
Oh yeah, I’m working on a film that is set in Korea, and it’s during the Asian economic crisis of the late ’90s, and I’m doing that and I have a few ideas for another book. I think most people have a book in them to write, I feel like everyone should and if you’re lucky, you can write more. I mean, I tried it!