Review: Every Falling Star

Posted September 10, 2016

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 Star Every 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.