Review: Every Falling Star

September 10, 2016 in Biography, Memoir, Book Reviews, YA

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Every Falling StarEvery Falling Star by Sungju Lee, Susan McClelland
Published by Amulet on 13th September 2016
Genres: YA, Memoir
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher

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.

Last year I read In Order To Live by Yeonmi Park (I’m kicking myself that I didn’t review it on the blog), the story of her life and escape from North Korea and everything she had to do to stay alive. I subsequently thrust a copy into the hands of friends and family, however it was more of an adult read I guess and I found myself wishing for a similar account for a young adult audience.

So when I discovered Every Falling Star, written with that younger audience in mind, I jumped at the chance to read it. You absolutely do not need to be a young adult to read this though. In fact, I encourage ALL to read it!

Every Falling Star is the memoir of Sungju Lee, a North Korean boy whose family fell out of favour with the regime. They were sent north and Sungju suddenly encountered what life was really like for the majority of his countrymen and women. At the age of twelve, Sungju found himself alone, fending for himself and living on the streets. We follow his story from a privileged life in Pyongyang to living with his ‘brothers’ in his gang, stealing and fighting for their lives while simultaneously trying to avoid imprisonment and perhaps even execution.

This book is thoroughly eye-opening. It’s rare that we in the West hear about life in North Korea so when a book like this comes out – a book that risks the lives of the author and his family who remain in the country, reading it is the least we can do!

Something that I find particularly powerful about this book is the way we see the world  through the innocence of a wealthy North Korean child who is raised to believe that their leader is a God, that the West is waging war on their country and who dreams of commanding in the North Korean army. We follow Sungju as his perception of this world is shattered. We journey with him as he uncovers the truth of the country he lives in and the reality of life in North Korea for those who are not favoured by the regime. Personally, I feel that this eye-opening, uncovering and progressive loss of innocence lends itself well to this younger audience. It makes Sungju more relatable at the outset and therefore what follows is very hard hitting.

I can’t recommend this book enough. Obviously the content is not easy; however if Sungju and thousands like him can live this life, we should embrace the reading of it. It’s an emotional, heart wrenching read that will make you consider your own life and the freedoms that we take for granted.

It is well written, engaging and illuminating. It not only tells the story of Sungju’s life, but educates us on the history of the country. I’m so grateful to Sungju for taking the tremendous risks to share his story.


Review: Sixteen, Sixty-One

September 3, 2013 in Biography, Memoir, Book Reviews

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Sixteen, Sixty-OneSixteen, Sixty-One by Natalie Lucas
Genres: Biography, Memoir
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher

Natalie Lucas was just 15 when she began a close relationship with a man in his early sixties. Matthew opened Natalie’s mind and heart to philosophy and literature. Within months they had entered into the intense, erotic affair that they would disguise as an innocent intergenerational friendship for several years. Together they mocked the small-town busybodies around them, laughing at plebs like her parents and his in-laws, who were all too blinkered by convention to live pure lives. Only Natalie and Matthew were truly free.

Or so she believed. But when Natalie left her hometown for university and decided she wanted to try to live a normal life, Matthew’s affection soon turned into a consuming obsession.

Written with remarkable candor and grace, Sixteen, Sixty-One is more than an account of suburban grooming: it is the gripping story of a young girl’s sexual awakening and journey into womanhood.

16 was her age when the relationship started, 61 was his…hence the title of the book. He was a neighbour, lived just a few doors down from her house. At a neighbourhood party they started to chat and a friendship was formed. They discussed art, literature, philosophy. They played Scrabble and cards. Their relationship moved on over time, both physically and emotionally.

Lucas tells the (true) story of how she became involved with a married man, 45 years her senior. How they hid their relationship from the world, and how ultimately that relationship would affect her life.

I genuinely didn’t know what to expect from this book. I was sent a summary and thought it was a book that deserved to be read. I’m glad I read it.

Lucas is incredibly honest with her writing. She doesn’t skim past awkward parts, she is frank and open. To be honest I found some parts quite hard to read – the physical relationship between them particularly. I kept thinking of people I knew that were 61 ish when I was 16 and it did make me feel really quite uncomfortable. Then again, it opened my eyes and gave me an awareness. Surely that’s a good thing right?

The thing is, she isn’t biased when she writes about that relationship. You can tell from her writing that she was happy at the time. (This is a great skill when you consider everything he puts her through by the end of the book!)

When Natalie leaves home to go to University she decides to use it as a chance to move on. She has wondered for some time about her feelings towards women, and university could be the perfect place to explore these feelings.

Matthew isn’t so happy to just let her go. In fact his behaviour becomes obsessive. No-one knows about the nature of Natalie’s relationship with Matthew and so when things take a difficult turn (that’s probably quite an understatement!) she really is quite alone.

Telling of her journey from teen to adult. From a 15 year old virgin to a teenager embroiled in an erotic affair with an older man. From a confused teenager to a young adult finding her feet and trying to restore some “normalcy” to her life. This is a memoir about growth and progression. It’s maybe not for the overly sensitive,  but it will open your eyes.

I did really enjoy this book. I like the way it’s written. Lucas doesn’t look for sympathy or pity, she is telling her story and she does it with style. Yes, I found it hard to read in places, but I’m glad I did read it. I’m sure there will be quite a range of reactions to this memoir, but for me I admire Lucas’ bravery and candour.

If you fancy giving this book a go I’ve just checked and it’s currently only 99p on Kindle. A bargain!

We were sent a copy of this book free of charge for our consideration. All opinions expressed are entirely our own and completely honest.