Published by Amulet Books on September 13th 2016
Genres: young adult, nonfiction
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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 would encourage anyone that has ever wanted to read a memoir or a biography (but were afraid they would be dry and boring) to start here. Sungju’s journey is a harrowing, dangerous, emotional journey that I will never forget.
I met Sungju at ALA and I really wanted to say more than I did, but I didn’t know what to say without my words making me sound like a putz. But to put it mildly, he’s a hero. He survived an experience that many would not have, and though he did what he had to do to survive, not many would have emotionally (or physically) made it through. He made it out and now spends his life helping others do the same.
I think about North Korea often–the people that are suffering there, many of whom don’t know they are suffering, and that there is a better life out there for them if only they could escape. Most do not escape. Many that try are send to labor camps or executed. For most North Koreans there is not a happily ever after. And then I think about the ones that are lucky enough to make it out, and the emotional impact of the experience they must deal with throughout the rest of their lives. How much it must change you as a person. Leaving your family behind, then losing contact with them and never seeing them again because you can’t. Or, you stay and basically starve unless you work for the government or are a favorite, like an athlete or a celebrity. But there’s the constant threat too of that being pulled out from underneath you if you step a toe out of line.
Well, that’s what happened to Sungju’s family. His dad worked for the government, until one day he didn’t. As a result, the family was send to a re-education camp, their money eventually ran out, and they were forced to forage in the forest for food, and they starved through the harsh winters. Sungju’s Dad tried to go to China to get them supplies and food but he disappeared and never came back, and then the same happened with his mother. Sungju had to live for many years without his parents, on the streets, homeless, and he joined a gang of pickpockets to survive. It’s a very depressing story, but one of hope and perseverance.
I don’t want to spoil what happens at all, because I think the story is experienced much better that way. Obviously he made it out or there wouldn’t be a book, but how he makes it out, and when, are for you to find out. This is one of those learning books. I am very into learning about other cultures, and so I already knew a lot about North Korea and didn’t learn that much new here, but if you aren’t all that familiar with what goes on there, I think you could potentially pick up a lot of important information from Every Falling Star. It’s definitely an emotional journey, and I very much enjoyed this nonfiction story of someone’s early years. It’s not a book for the faint of heart, but it’s an important story to tell, and it really puts the privilege of those that are free into perspective.