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

Every Falling Star by Sungju Lee

Every Falling Star: The True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea
Sunju Lee and Susan Elizabeth McClelland
Amulet Books
Published September 13, 2016

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About Every Falling Star

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.

My Review

Intense is a great word for this book. I’ve seen a couple of documentaries about North Korea, but nothing is more personal and moving than the story of someone who lived there. Sungju describes his early life in Pyongyang and the fierce national pride he felt for his country. His beliefs are challenged when his family is forced to leave the capital for a small impoverished city where food shortages cause many people to risk trips into China—an offense punishable by execution if they’re caught.

While EVERY FALLING STAR is a difficult story, Sungju shares so much hope. Ultimately it’s a story about the bonds of love, both within family and between close friends, and redemption. To read the end of the tale and learn what the author has accomplished can’t help but be inspiring, and to make us grateful for the freedoms we have, and the ability to share them with others.

I highly recommend this book. EVERY FALLING STAR was so good, would read it again. It would make a great resource for a current events class or a world cultures class.

Cultural Elements
Most characters are North Korean.

Profanity/Crude Language Content

Romance/Sexual Content
At one point, the boys work as runners for a brothel, helping recruit customers.

Spiritual Content
A few references to Chilseong, a deity and shan-shin-ryong-nim, good spirits thought to live in rocks and mountains. Sungju’s family shared these beliefs with him and they bring him comfort during his life as a street boy.

Violent Content
Sungju and his schoolmates have to attend public executions. Sungju describes them briefly. Later, his gang must battle other street boys for the right to stay in a particular city.

Drug Content
The boys in the street gang drink alcohol and smoke.

Note: This post contains affiliate links which do not cost you anything to use but which help support my blog. I received a free copy of EVERY FALLING STAR in exchange for my honest review.