Some summer days, when her shifts at the supermarket run late, Grandma makes me watch over my younger sister. I am fifteen, Maya is eleven, and she is always whining about one thing or another. This is a truth in our household, one that sinks in all of our stomachs.

Today, we don’t have the juice brand she wants: the kind in a floppy silver pouch, not a box. I want to tell her to suck it up, but Grandma pinches my wrist.

“What’s wrong with the juice we have?” she asks, her Korean lifting in question.

“It’s gross,” Maya says in English, arms folded.

“You liked it a few days ago.”

“I don’t like it. You can’t make me drink it.”

“Maya,” I finally say. “There are worse things in the world.”

Maya begins to make the sour face she does before crying. Her lips are puckered, her eyebrows taut. Grandma makes the same face.

“Okay, all right. I’ll pick some up after work,” Grandma says, her forehead folding into parabolas.

Bitterness, sticky and heavy, fills my throat. “No, Grandma, she needs to learn. She’s old enough to know that you don’t always get what you want by crying about it.”

Elane Kim

Elane Kim is a high school student who enjoys creative writing, science, and rainy days. She is the editor-in-chief of Gaia Lit, an online magazine dedicated to spreading awareness about pressing environmental issues. Her writing has been recognized by the National YoungArts Foundation and the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She is very happy to meet you!

Patrick Ryan on “Smorzando”

As 2020 was nearing its close, we received more than 450 entrees for One Teen Story’s Teen Writing Contest—the most we’ve ever received. They came in from teen writers ranging in age from 13-19, and we grouped them into three categories: 13-15, 16-17, and 18-19. Our goal, as always, was to pick a winner and runner-up in each category, and our team of dedicated contest readers set the process in motion by diving into one of our favorite shared activities: reading. It was heartening, indeed, to discover that not only had the teens been writing during a tumultuous year, but they’d also produced some powerful, moving stories.

We’re pleased to present to you the winner of our 13-15 age category: Elane Kim, who has written a quietly moving story called “Smorzando.”

“Smorzando” is about two sisters, Amy and Maya, who have lost their mother, live with their grandmother, and share a passion for playing the piano. As is often the case in stories about siblings, there is rivalry: Amy is more dedicated (at first); Maya is more talented. The fact that Maya is the younger of the two sisters isn’t lost on Amy, who does her best to tolerate her sister’s immaturity while struggling to accept that, no matter how immature she is, Maya will always be the better pianist. Add to this Amy’s desire, as the older sister, to help keep alive the memories they share of their mother, whom they both dearly miss.

Elane Kim has written a tender and utterly convincing story about these two girls at a challenging juncture of their lives. We hope you enjoy “Smorzando” as much as we did.

Q&A by Patrick Ryan

PR: What would you say Amy, as the older sister, is trying to teach Maya in this story?
EK: I think Amy is trying to teach Maya about motherhood in its absence. As the older sister, she faces a kind of forced maturity, whether due to issues rooted in cultural differences, financial hardship, or the self. She is trying to give her younger sister an unsure legacy, to translate the lessons and stories that her mother gave her at the risk of mistranslation.
PR: How long did it take you to complete this story?
EK: The bones of the story have been in my head for a while; as a result, it didn’t take too long to flesh out the story itself. I often write in fragments at a time, so the story took about an evening to write and assemble.
PR: Where did the idea for this story come from?
EK: The story was inspired by many neighboring stories: those of the people after me, near me, and before me. I took small details from these stories—the way that a family is a function of its members, the way that hidden burdens can reveal themselves, the way that there are different symptoms of grief—and collected them into a single piece.
PR: And what does Maya want to teach Amy?
EK: Maya, in turn, wants to teach Amy about independence and about acceptance—about recovery. In a way, their interests align in that they are both looking for what is lost in one another.
PR: Would you describe the ending as happy? Sad? Bittersweet? How do you envision Amy and Maya’s relationship a little further down the line—say, in a year. Do you think they’ll be getting along?
EK: I think the ending is hopeful in a bittersweet way. There will likely be more disagreements to come, but I think that Amy and Maya will be getting along, having gained a sense of understanding in their relationship.
PR: Finish this sentence in just one word—the word you think best captures it: “This story is about __________.”
EK: Communication.
PR: What did you do when you found out you were one of our Teen Writing Contest Winners? Was there any celebrating?
EK: I was super excited! I found out during class, and I paused my camera to celebrate in the moment.
PR: What are you working on now?
EK: Generally, I’m working on writing different genres, whether poetry or fiction or nonfiction, and taking the time to read more of what’s on my to-read list.
PR: What is the best bit of advice about writing you have ever received?
EK: Something that I’ve always kept in mind is to never lose your voice when you write. To keep your voice yours is to tell your truth the way you think it should be told. Regardless of how you tell it, your story is yours to sing.