“Juror Mark Medley [Books Editor, National Post] says Ann Choi’s Cornered is “an intelligent – and often brave – coming-of-age story” set in-and-around Toronto’s Korean community in the mid-1980s. “An emerging author who writes like she’s been doing it her whole life, it’s doubtless we’ll be reading more of Choi in the future.””
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Like so many Korean-Canadian families in Toronto during the 70s, 80s, and the 90s, our family owned a convenience store. Before that though, my parents toiled in factories and other miscellaneous jobs. Upon first arriving in Canada in March of 1975, we spent our first couple of months in Etobicoke, before our family settled in the Old Weston Road and Finch area, living on the fifth floor of a government-subsidized apartment. I attended Daystrom, an elementary school with a high immigrant and ESL population.
In 1977, my parents bought our first store, Bee’s Variety, located on Wilson Avenue, just west of Dufferin Street. We lived above another store a few buildings away. I went to Ancaster Public School. My fondest memories of this neighbourhood are of riding my bicycle, which had a large strawberry painted on the banana seat, around the back streets, and watching T.V. from the store front of an electronic repair shop next door to our store.
In 1980, after selling Bee’s Variety, my parents bought a Pop Shoppe on Dupont Street, west of Dufferin. I ended up transferring to Perth Avenue Public School before going to Osler Sr P.S. and Oakwood Collegiate Institute for high school. It was during these years that I ended up making lifelong friends and I have many memories, both good and bad to fuel another book or two.
In 1983, my parents ended up selling the Pop Shoppe and buying K&L Variety on Queen Street, west of Bathurst. We ended up moving above that store. I had to take the streetcar and the bus to get to Oakwood, but I didn’t want to transfer schools yet again. By the time I graduated, we had moved two more times. The last store my parents had before retiring in 2007 was in Richmond Hill, Ontario.
Life for any family-run business is demanding. Our convenience store was open seven days a week, usually from 7 in the morning until 11 at night. This meant that my family never got to eat any meals together. Thefts, robberies, and even assault – both verbal and physical – happened on a regular basis.
Although the store in my novel remains nameless, it is loosely based on K&L Variety and the Queen Street neighbourhood as it was in the 1980s. The main character, Mary, is a composite of several Korean-Canadian girls I knew growing up whose lives evolved around a variety store. We shouldered the great expectations imposed on us by our parents so that we could have the better lives that they envisioned for us.