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Every Falling Star: The True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea

Review

Every Falling Star: The True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea

North Korea: we’ve all heard horrors about life there --- the appalling human rights abuses made common, the power of a three-generations-long dictatorship --- but only a few stories are shared with the world on its atrocities. EVERY FALLING STAR tells the story of Sungju Lee, a young man who not only survived North Korea’s dictator-led nation, but escaped to share his tale.

In Pyongyang, Sungju Lee lives comfortably due to his father being a leader in the country’s military regime. When the death of Kim Il Sung sweeps the nation in a veil of mourning, though, his father is thrown out of the city’s gilded gates and to the countryside. It is there, in Gyeong-seong, that Lee spends his formative years.

"This is a memoir without borders, something that every young reader should pick up and read....I highly implore you to give EVERY FALLING STAR a try."

All of a sudden, warm meals and schooling become a luxury to a boy who once had it all. When at school, he sees classmates disappear sporadically. He hears about family members going missing after looking for food when money ran out. And eventually, he sells his textbook to buy enough food to survive. Lee finds it hard to face the reality that he is living in a country full of poverty. Through violence and friendship, he is able to navigate through his days.

There is no law. There is no order. Lee and his gang are off to fend for themselves. I was shocked at the heartfelt moments shared by Lee and his friends, all of whom he has not contacted since he defected from North Korea. If I could describe their relationship, I would say call it “tough love” between them. All of the children lived without their parents --- it’s odd for anyone to grow up without a familiar figure to guide them.

The hardest part when finishing this novel is thinking about the atrocities you’ve read about and deciding how to process them. I closed this book with my mouth gaped, in a state of complete shock of what I’d read; I finished the book in a couple hours. Most of my favorite supporting characters were gone, there was so much that was left unanswered, but it felt fitting for a retelling of the author’s own experience defecting from the dictatorship. When he reaches safety in South Korea, Lee still doesn’t know where his mother is, where his friends are, and we are never told why he left Pyongyang in the first place. I was left wholly touched by Lee’s story of survival in an unkind world; I feel that his memoir helped me understand and empathize with North Korean refugees.

This is a memoir without borders, something that every young reader should pick up and read. For a revealing tale written with such poignancy that all readers will be able to understand, I highly implore you to give EVERY FALLING STAR a try.

Reviewed by Rachel D., Teen Board Member on December 13, 2017

Every Falling Star: The True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea
by Sungju Lee and Susan Elizabeth McClelland

  • Publication Date: October 17, 2017
  • Genres: Biography, Politics, Young Adult 12+
  • Paperback: 344 pages
  • Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
  • ISBN-10: 1419727613
  • ISBN-13: 9781419727610