This review is based on a complimentary book I received from NetGalley. It is an honest and voluntary review. The complimentary receipt of it in no way affected my review or rating.Every Falling Star by Sungju Lee, Susan Elizabeth McClelland
Release Date: September 13, 2016
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
Purchase at: Amazon
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.
This story paints a riveting and tragic story of a young man whose family was ripped apart by the political/socioeconomic environment of his country. North Korea had recently lost their trading partner and primary source of aid and this coupled with a series of weather anomalies manifested into the collapse of the central ration system. After the death of political leader Kim Il-Sung, the country plummeted into a famine that the new leader, Kim Jong-il was ill equipped to deal with.
Sungju’s family moved from the capital of Pyongyang to the forsaken northern city Gyong-seong. This is where everything just fell apart and the story that is spun is just heart breaking. After the money ran out and the family was unable to forage anymore from the nearby forest Sungju’s dad left to search for work in China. When he did not return and the food literally ran out, his mom left to go to her sister’s for help and she never returned. Which left a malnourished pre-teen to fend for himself. So, so, so sad! Honestly as a parent this scenario just brought tears to my eyes. What made the situation worse in my eyes is that his parents had never really told him what was happening, what was really going on, so it left him ill prepared to deal with his reality.
What helped him while he was on his own was his childhood “training” with his mother and father on military strategies and hierarchies. Through his early childhood education and goals of becoming a military commander, Sungju was able to form a gang with other boys in his similar situation and together they were able to keep themselves fed, fight rival gangs, and become a family that these boys so desperately needed for survival.
“You can’t wait for hope to find you. You have to go out and grab it.”
What I took away from this story is that hope is the key. Hope was the spark that brought about the change in events that lead Sungju to South Korea and to his restoration. This story is emotionally charged and honestly portrayed. It was a glimpse into the realities of a closed off country and just another reminder of how much I take for granted in my country. This book is an eye opening must read that will not only entertain you but also capture your heart.
*Thank you to Abrams Kids & NetGalley for this ARC of Every Falling Star *