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Lane 5Eun So-hole, Noh In-kyung
『Lane 5』Author : Eun So-hole
Illustrator : Noh In-kyung
Publisher : Munhakdongne
Publication date: September 14, 2020
Number of pages: 240
ISBN : 9788954674638
A Fluttering Heart
Lane 5 is a story about young swimmers. That in itself gets readers curious. What will happen in the swimming pool? What kind of experiences do these aquatic children go through? What’s on their minds? From the first page, we follow the smell of the water to the swimming pool. There, we follow the children’s movements and tread through the water, where we finally encounter the coming of age story of earnest, grounded children. These children, who choose their own path and give everything they have to it, are radiant; the scenes of friendship, love, excitement and fluttering hearts against the green and blue hues of summer are clear, cool and refreshing.
This work is a genuine depiction of the process of children asking questions about themselves and finding answers. The children in Lane 5 try to achieve the best motion possible with the physiology they are given. They have to beat the kid in the next lane, while breaking their own record. They have to endure the fact that all of their movements are quantified and ranked, during practice or in competition. Whether they started swimming out of fun or talent, sometimes swimming becomes an overwhelming burden for them. Through fierce competition, the children test the limits of their bodies and minds. They begin to question themselves: Why am I walking down this path? Is this truly the way I want to go? What is it that I want to accomplish? Will I be able to reach the finish line?
The protagonist Na-ru also finds herself facing her limits at one point. She reaches her physical limit when she meets a competitor who has longer arms, and she meets her psychological limit when she steals the swimsuit of a rival who always has better records than her. In the dark abyss deep down her heart, she comes face-to-face with herself and asks a question — the question she had been avoiding, a question she had never let herself dwell on. Na-ru never understood why her older sister quit swimming and decided to take on diving instead. But she was never able to ask the question. For her, someone who left the path they were on was a loser and quitter. Quitting was a choice Na-ru would never consider. When she learns that she can no longer beat Cho-hui, cracks finally begin to appear on the walls of Na-ru’s strong and sturdy fortress. However, Na-ru fails to reach inside herself for an answer to this question and only goes as far as Cho-hui’s swimsuit. The swimsuit is the excuse Na-ru comes up with as to why she cannot win. Stealing a rival’s weapon is rather predictable, but it doesn’t come across as too obvious — because Na-ru herself already suspects that the glossy swimsuit has no actual power at all. It was just that Na-ru was in need of a temporary shelter to avoid facing herself. These hesitations and excuses add veracity to the character Na-ru. As a bird learns to fly after being pushed out of a nest, at the end of the question “Why do I swim?” Na-ru finally pushes herself out from a nest of excuses and begins to soar. Life is a life-or-death battle against yourself. Learning how to win and learning how to lose is ultimately the same thing. Whether you will soar or fall depends on you. Na-ru learns these lessons in life with her own body and mind. Then she proceeds down the path towards her earnest aspirations in a wholesome way. Instead of a story where children fight battles against the world and embark on grand adventures, the author chose to write about children who pass through their respective light and darkness to eventually reach their true self fair and square. Such genuine, condensed depiction is what makes this work truly shine.
Na-ru’s older sister Beo-deul’s dream is not shattered but is reconstructed. Tae-yang begins his journey at a later age than others but is determined, in every moment, to open whatever door that comes before him. Embodying an honest and solid friendship, Seung-nam carefully reevaluates his path at the crossroads and wonders if he should continue swimming or not. Cho-hui learns to overcome her ungrounded fears during competition by believing in her own strength and not some lucky charm. These children have gathered at the swimming pool for the same goal but for different motives, and each story is vivid and harmonious. In the scene where Cho-hui and Na-ru stand side by side in lanes 4 and 5 to soar into the waters as soon as the whistle blows, it seems as if you can hear the sounds of children cheering for these characters at the top of their lungs.
In life, how many opportunities do we have to honestly face the deep abyss of our heart? How often do we discover what excites us and put all of our energy into it? Many children run not towards their own desires but towards the desires of their parents and the world. They do not know whether they want to run or not, nor do they know why they are running. The same is true even in adulthood. If they were not able to reflect on their bodies and minds at a young age, they cannot miraculously attain the power to face themselves as adults. They may struggle to hit the touchpad at the finishing line, but it is not their own. When they finally realize this, they would be too exhausted to return themselves to the starting point. Therefore, Na-ru’s act of doubting herself, her friends and the path she is on may be a rite of passage we should all experience at some point. The readers can perceive that the Na-ru we see in the final scene saying, “Just you wait. I’ll be the first one to hit that touchpad next time,” is different from the Na-ru we met in the beginning.
After reading this book, children will want to soar into a world of their own, a world they truly love. The moment they throw themselves into a new world, they will ask themselves why they want to do this, and they will be able to find their own answers as they should. Through (today’s) strong and confident Na-ru who throws her body at the water, we will be able to find our true selves. Every time I read this book, my ears open wide. This is not only because of the sound of the audience cheering in the swimming arena or the sound the body makes as it hits the water. It is the sound of a quiet, strong heartbeat. Listening to that sound makes my heart flutter. How strange, since this is only supposed to happen after swimming back and forth down a 25-meter lane at full speed.
By Song Mi-kyoung
Children’s book writer