Every Falling Star: The True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea by Sungju Lee (2017)

every falling starThis tense, heartbreaking true story about a boy’s struggle to survive on the streets of North Korea offers a rare glimpse into a country shrouded in mystery.

Recommended grade level: 6 and up

Pages:   336 (for ISBN 9781419721328)

Genre(s) and keywords: nonfiction, memoir, survival, diverse, dystopian, current events, Kylie’s favorites

Tone/Style: grim, determined

Pace: moderate to fast

Topics: North Korea, gangs, orphans, poverty

Themes: loyalty, trust, injustice, family, friendship

Summary: Every Falling Star, the first book to portray contemporary North Korea to a young audience, is the intense memoir of a North Korean boy named Sungju who is forced at age twelve to live on the streets and fend for himself. To survive, Sungju creates a gang and lives by thieving, fighting, begging, and stealing rides on cargo trains. Sungju richly re-creates his scabrous story, depicting what it was like for a boy alone to create a new family with his gang, his “brothers”; to be hungry and to fear arrest, imprisonment, and even execution. This riveting memoir allows young readers to learn about other cultures where freedoms they take for granted do not exist.  (Source)

Who will like this book?: This will appeal to a wide range of readers. Though Sungju’s world is unfamiliar, his struggles and worries are easy to empathize with. Lingering mysteries pull the story along at a brisk pace. Sungju says North Korea is a real-life dystopian nation, and the book does have a dystopian feel. The fact that it’s true makes it all the more horrifying.

Who won’t like this book?: A lot of this book’s power lies in the fact that it is true and continues to happen to this day. Readers who want to escape into a story or who prefer upbeat tales should look elsewhere.

Other comments: I talked about this at my May 2017 Summer Reading booktalks, and there was a lot of interest. A few students knew a little bit about North Korea, but most didn’t know much. I hope this book gains the wide readership it deserves. Please pass it along.

Sequel(s): n/a

Readalikes: I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai is another excellent memoir of a teen displaced from a home country in turmoil. For fictional contemporary accounts of young people whose lives are torn apart by politics and war, I recommend A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park, Shooting Kabul by N.H. Senzai, The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney, and Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins.

-Kylie Peters

Image credit: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28818317-every-falling-star

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