I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the notion of flaws and how we often perceive them with negativity. Perhaps, we need to interrogate the idea of feeling flawed. Applying critical thinking to that notion and shifting our perspectives, we might consider how mistakes are simply evidence of having taken a risk and come away with a key lesson—a fact which adds to our value.
Two young adult authors have taken that idea and employed figurative language to discuss flaws. In Our Chemical Hearts (2016) by Krystal Sutherland and You Don’t Live Here (2020) by Robyn Schneider, both authors employ Kintsukuroi (keen-tsoo-koo-roy), the Japanese art of mending pottery with seams of gold, as a metaphor for how the cracks, knocks, and breaks in our lives have the potential to make us more beautiful. Adding to that idea, Mercedes Smith (2020) claims that the philosophy behind the ancient Japanese art of Kintsugi is that nothing is ever truly broken; consequently, our scars need not remain hidden.
Readers will likely be impressed with Sutherland’s ability to describe love so accurately in her novel, as the achingly, excruciatingly beautiful paradox that it is, as it both fulfills and infuriates. To further describe love’s—and life’s—effect on human beings, Sutherland uses analogies. One of those comes in the form of a “cabinet of curiosities” kept by the novel’s seventeen-year-old protagonist, Henry Isaac Page. His collection of pottery pieces exhibit the Kintsukuroi style. As the novel unfolds, Sutherland uses the metaphor to suggest that although we experience unexpected knocks from life and drops from dizzying heights, Japanese pottery can teach us a lot about feeling flawed. Despite the totally miserable feeling, there can also be a strange beauty in the way we process these occasions and the lessons we take from them.
Another young adult novel that uses this same metaphor is Schneider’s You Don’t Live Here. Beyond the metaphor—which ultimately illustrates how supportive people act like the gold and the glue in Kintsugi—knitting the broken pieces back together and returning beauty to life—Schneider shares insight about self-acceptance and how keeping parts of ourselves hidden has consequences.
Schneider’s sixteen-year-old protagonist, Sasha Bloom undergoes a process of healing from her brokenness, a process which reminds her friend Lily Chen of the Japanese art of Kintsugi—“the idea that neither damage nor repair are shameful. That actually they’re what makes these pieces unique, because without the broken pieces they’d just be ordinary” (209).
Although the novel ends true to life—with the unexpected—Sasha’s art project reveals her ability to stand tall despite her brokenness. In a series of photographs, she shows how the overall idea of someone isn’t actually the truth since who we truly are is often invisible. Explaining her exhibit to Lily, the girl who taught her to live her truth, Sasha says: “I wanted to play with the idea of how we curate versions of ourselves that are rarely honest. And how easy it is to forget that we don’t really know each other, [even though] we live in this social structure that presumes we do” (351).
Both of these novels suggest that rather than hiding the evidence of just how imperfect, flawed, and "not good enough" we believe we are, each of us should look for a way to cope with traumatic events in a positive way, learn from negative experiences, take the best from them, and convince ourselves that these experiences make each person unique and precious. Under the influence of such an interpretation, Kintsukuroi essentially captures the essence of resilience.
A Kintsugi approach to life emphasizes how hiding damage may represent a form of dishonesty. Because Kintsugi beautifies the breakage and treats it as an important part of the object’s history, perhaps we are meant to treat our brokenness as a precious part of our identities.
Schneider, Robyn. You Don’t Live Here. New York: Katherine Tegen Books, 2020.
Smith, Mercedes. “Broken a Pot? Copy the Japanese and Fix It with Gold.” BBC Programming, www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/326qTYw26156P9k92v8zr3C/broken-a-pot-copythe-japanese-and-fix-it-with-gold. Accessed September 20, 2020.
Sutherland, Krystal. Our Chemical Hearts. New York: Penguin, 2016.