Former Sidwell Teacher Soon Wiley Releases New Book

Former Upper School English Teacher and author Soon Wiley’s captivating debut novel, “When We Fell Apart,” explores themes of identity, sexuality, grief and familial expectations. Telling the story of Min, a Korean-American boy who moves to Seoul to discover the truth of his girlfriend’s suicide while also searching for a sense of cultural belonging, the novel has received critical acclaim.

In the book, Wiley uses poetic imagery and vivid descriptions to alternate between the perspectives of Min and his girlfriend, Yu-jin, whose narrative starts from a young age. Yu-jin describes her desires to live a life free from the constraints of her family.

Wanting to explore the question of “how we respond to tragedy and how we process grief,” Wiley started writing his book seven years ago. Although he always wanted to be a writer, it was only after completing his Master of Fine Arts degree that he became serious about pursuing the profession.

“I think I had inklings even earlier than that to be a writer, but it never seemed definitive. Even now it doesn’t seem definitive,” Wiley said.

Wiley began writing his novel while working at Sidwell, which he believes helped him improve his skills as an author. When writing about the characters’ teenage years, Wiley drew inspiration from his experiences interacting with adolescents.

“After working at Sidwell over the years and working with students, that stuff certainly seeps into your writing, whether you’re aware of it or not,” Wiley noted.

Much like Min, the protagonist, Wiley was born to an American father and a Korean mother and traveled to Seoul after graduating college.

“We probably shared some experiences of how people reacted to us and kind of just how we navigated being in a place and a culture in which we share some similarities too but ultimately are somewhat foreign,” Wiley reflected.

The plot, however, is not based entirely on himself, as Wiley finds the most enjoyment “when characters do and say stuff that surprises you.”

For Wiley, the hardest part of writing the novel was the discipline of writing every day with no immediate payoff.

“Putting in that work every day when you don’t really know whether it’s going to work or you will have to throw that draft in the bin [was hard]. I had to have a lot of patience and be okay with failing multiple times and trusting the process,” Wiley reflected.

When asked what his favorite part of writing “When We Fell Apart” was, Wiley answered, “I think the most rewarding part of it was finishing it and knowing that I don’t have to keep working on it and having people be able to read it.”

Called a “lonely, heartbreaking, spellbinding story of love, self-discovery, and belonging” by New York Times best-selling author Jamie Ford, “When We Fell Apart” already has passionate and supportive fans.

According to Vogue Magazine, Wiley’s novel is “a powerful novel that delves unflinchingly into the deeply timely question of what it means to belong to more than one culture.”

Wiley is currently on a book tour around the United States, doing interviews and signings for his new novel. As author Michael Knight commented, “What isn’t hard to believe is that Soon Wiley is a writer we’ll be hearing from for years to come.”