Book Review: Every Falling Star by Sungju Lee and Susan Elizabeth McClelland

Book: Every Falling Star: The True Story Of How I Survived And Escaped North Korea by Sungju Lee and Susan Elizabeth McCelland

Published November 2016 by Harry N. Abrams|336 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: YA Nonfiction/Memoir

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.

I really liked Every Falling Star, and I’m glad I picked it up!  I feel like it’s rare to see YA Non-Fiction, and even though I know it’s something that’s out there, I don’t really read it or seek it out.  But this was worth reading, and in a lot of ways, it read like a novel.  Quite frequently, I forgot it was a memoir.

I don’t know anything about North Korea- I know they’ve come up a lot on the news a lot lately, but otherwise, my knowledge of them is virtually nonexistent.  I think this book is great look at what life is like in North Korea, and how not falling in line can change everything.

I can’t begin to imagine life on the streets and having to beg, steal and fight just to survive.  I am curious about what his father did in the military, and I get why he doesn’t talk about what happened, for fear of what would happen to his relatives still in North Korea.  It has to be bad if it puts them at risk, and they did have to leave where they were living because of it, but I am curious about what really happened.  To me, though, it seemed like his did something that would have been fine nearly anywhere else in the world.  It’s sad and horrifying what they’ll apparently do to people who don’t follow along and who aren’t compliant with what the government wants.

It’s hard to wrap my mind around that, and once again, it’s hard to imagine not knowing what happened to your family and friends, particularly friends who are considered family.  I hope his mother and friends are okay, and that one day, if it’s something he wants, he will learn what happened to him.  I doubt it, if the entire book is any indication, but one can hope.

It was interesting to see how much of a deity Kim Jong-Il was.  People had their own opinions, as we see in the book, but it’s amazing how much people believed in him and looked up to him.  It was definitely clear to me, while reading Every Falling Star, that you really had to be careful about what you said and did, because you never what happen if people thought you weren’t anything other than a model citizen.

Every Falling Star is an eye-opener, and though it’s YA, it’s one of those books that everyone should read.  You see how quickly Lee changed when he realized that not everyone is cared for, like he originally thought, and what it must be like for most people living in North Korea

4 stars.  I thought this book was a great read, and an insight into a country that most only hear about on the news.


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