Written By: Sungju Lee
Published by: Harry N. Abrams (September 13, 2016)
The world is such a big place, and I think we forget that fact in these times of the internet and instant news. Unfortunately, this is a real story. In the horrifyingly not too distant past, Sungju Lee lived and almost died in North Korea. Imagine all the dystopian lit you’ve read and then realize that this happened for real in the 1990’s. Not in some ancient time when the world wasn’t aware of cruel leaders.
Truly if it weren’t on my non-fiction list, I would have thought it was fictional. The events unfold in a way that allows the readers (Young Adults) to ease into the new situation just as Sung Ju’s parents arranged for him. As an adult reader, I thought something was “off” about this “vacation” and hoped it wasn’t an exile as I feared it was.
The banishment of Sung Ju and his parents for an unnamed infraction committed by his father sets the stage for the rest of the book. It’s fairly horrible stuff. I kept drawing lines between this story and The Endless Steppe: Growing Up in Siberia by Esther Hautzig. The difference being about 50 years in time and a few thousand miles of distance.
The bright side is that SungJu escaped and was able to tell his story to the world. Who should read this? High schoolers
Who should read this? High schoolers – there is a lot of violence and some talk about sex. There is also no shortage of heartbreak. As Kathleen Kelly would say, “Read it with a box of tissues.”