Every Falling Star
By Sung Ju Lee
Amulet Books: New York, 2016.
Genre: Non-Fiction North Korea
Grades: 7 and Up
There not many books written about life inside North Korea and when this one debuted a couple weeks ago I knew I needed to read it! This a powerful memoir of Sung Ju Lee’s life in North Korea. In the beginning of the book there is a brief history of 20th century North Korea which helps to set the stage for the story. The country of North Korea is home to about 24 million people and of that 24 million about 72% belong to the military. Military service is mandatory for women to serve 7 years and men to serve 9 years. This is where 10-year-old Sung Ju Lee’s story begins, as his father was in the military and his mother a school teacher. They had a very comfortable life, a roomy apartment, a good education, a pet dog and occasional trips to the amusement park. But one day his mother told Sung Ju that they were going on an “extended vacation”—they packed up some belongings and took a train north. What Sung Ju did not know that his family had been sent away (somehow his father had offended the government)—they now lived in deplorable conditions and since North Korea was in the midst of a famine, food soon ran out. With no food and little hope Sung Ju’s Father tried to sneak over the border to China to find work and mother went to visit a sister to see if see could find food—neither of them returned. Now at the age of 12,
Sung Ju is an orphaned and had to run the streets with hundreds of other boys just like himself. They formed gangs in order to effectively steal so that they could get enough food to exist. This is a survival story of a young boy determined that there was something more in life for him. The amazing part for my students reading this book will be that this book takes place in the early 2000’s—it is North Korea as it exists today. The author often states that some facts he cannot give as it would mean certain death for friends and family that still live in North Korea today. It is an eye opening book not to be missed.
Some violence in this book and they refer to Night Flowers (prostitutes) but no details are given. It is a great book for grades 7 and up!