Every Falling Star: The True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea by Sungju Lee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
**Thank you to Amulet Books and ABRAMS Kids for providing me an ARC of this novel via NetGalley for the purposes of review**
“If [spoiler] were still alive, he might say, Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked in his boots.”
If I hadn’t been aware that this book was, indeed, a true story of one boy’s experiences in North Korea, I might have told you this was a dystopian novel. It reads just like one, and that these instances are true, that the people — despite name-changes — lived and existed on this same Earth as I do is simply incredible.
I think for people such as myself, modern-day North Korea is this kind of mystery. A black hole of general information populated only by the ghosts of my own imagination. Inevitably, this includes tall concrete walls and barbed wire fences — something akin to the Berlin Wall of the late 20th century more than anything else. Bringing it back to the people inside, the trees within the forest that might find themselves with their roots chained to the ground as opposed to flourishing.
The pitch of this book is that it allows “young readers to learn about other cultures where freedoms they take for granted do not exist,” and Every Falling Star does just that. I may not be the target “young reader” audience for this novel, but I am an audience who was deeply affected by Sungju Lee’s story. It’s gripping and horrifying and electric and wild and anything you’d expect from fiction…and it’s all true.
“You see, my father was in the military. He and his story are known by the regime. Disclosing the reason would identify him and put the few relatives of my family still in North Korea at risk. I will say that if he had done what he did in a free country, such as as the United States, his actions would be viewed as merely part of the democratic process. But in Pyongyang, they resulted in my family’s explosion from the capital city and eventual separation.”
In our own American capital, Washington D.C., there are words carved into the Korean War monument that read: “FREEDOM ISN’T FREE.” And if you don’t realise that’s one of the best lessons of this memoir, then you haven’t been paying attention. This is a book of immense tragedy and triumph, and I encourage everyone to read it.