Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4
What did you like about the book? This story is, on the surface, the action/adventure survival tale of American teen Simon and his younger adopted Korean American sister Mia as they attempt to escape from North Korea after their dad is captured, accused of wrongdoings. That in itself is a strong story and the pace is often heart-pounding as the two try to determine who to trust and how to make it out alive with information on North Korean Death Camps which aren’t supposed to exist; information which could get them killed if they are discovered with it. Yet there is so much more to this story; not least of which is the depth of nuance in Simon and Mia’s relationship, the discussions of adoption and family and the way it all serves to leave the reader with a larger understanding and empathy for the North Korean people. There’s also a really good list of resources at the back for further reading on North Korea as well as a really great few pages at the start that can even get you to read (or sound-out, at least) Korean text.
Anything you didn’t like about it? The story is as far-fetched as any middle-grade YA adventure and at some points the angst gets a bit repetitive but the characters are enjoyable and the setting is really well done; particularly with the short chapters from the POV of North Koreans who interact with Simon and Mia along the way.
To whom would you recommend this book? The running/surviving aspects will appeal to fans of “living rough” dystopian stories (Hunger Games, Life as We Knew It, etc). It will also be enjoyed by readers who are drawn to tales of the suffering others can feel at the hands of their country (Somewhere There Is Still a Sun).
Who should buy this book? Middle Schools, High Schools, Public Libraries (Don’t be surprised if this appears on summer reading lists next year)
Where would you shelve it? YA Fiction
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? YES!
Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State: April Duclos, Hudson Public Library, Hudson MA
Date of review: 6/27/17