To Learn to Read is to Light a Fire

As someone who’s grown up on fantasy, reading has always been a form of escapism for me. When I read about Harry’s adventures at Hogwarts, The Fellowship’s journey to destroy The Ring, every citizen of Westeros’ vain attempt to live a long life, I do so to escape the worries of the real world, if only for a little while.

Sometimes, however, books are about more than escapism. Sometimes, books make real the parts of our own world that we really wish were fictional.

As someone who’s grown up in a middle-class family in England, my life is a world away from the life of someone growing up in North Korea, and until recently, I was entirely oblivious to the goings on in a country so secretive that it’s known colloquially as the Hermit Kingdom.

Enter three eye-opening books so heartbreaking I wish they were fictional.

The first two I have reviewed before: Blaine Harden’s Escape From Camp 14, the account of a young man who grew up in the North Korean state-run prison camps, and In Order To Live by Yeonmi Park, an autobiographical story of the length humans can go to when they are forced to fight for their lives, are both eye-opening and emotionally-charged stories that continuously had me wondering how we can stand by and let these horrors just happen.

This third book is no different.

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Due for release this September, Every Falling Star is a non-fiction story of life in North Korea, for the YA generation.

Co-written with journalist Susan McClelland, this is the autobiographical tale of Sungju Lee, who went from being an impressive youngster, with sights on becoming a general in the North Korean army, to the leader of a child street gang, forced into thievery in order to survive.

Having read other books about the lives of North Koreans, I expected this to be a harrowing read, but what I didn’t expect was how well this book understands its audience.

Every Falling Star succeeds because it understands how difficult it will be for most of us to relate to Sungju; it doesn’t try and overdo the emotion or shock us into connecting with him, instead it relies on something we can all know: childish wonderment.

We’ve all been that age where every new piece of information was greeted by the question, ‘Why?’, we’ve all struggled to understand the world around us as we stare up at it from our viewpoint, at three foot small. At that age we share something with one another, regardless of where we live, who are parents are, how much money we have, and in reminding us of what it was like to be that age, Every Falling Star builds a connection between us and Shungju, that does not go away until well beyond the final page.

A lot of people shy away from reading non-fiction, because they don’t feel they will be able to get into it as easily as fiction, but this book has overcome that, to present a story that is full of emotion and heartbreak.

This isn’t an easy read, and it shouldn’t be, because it’s the best way of introducing a younger generation to the true horrors of the real world, so that they can be part of the future that changes things.

4/5

Every Falling Star is published on September 13th 2016.

I was sent a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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