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Page history last edited by RichiesPicks 3 years, 2 months ago

4 July 2017 IN THE SHADOW OF THE SUN by Anne Sibley O’Brien, Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, June 2017, 338p., ISBN: 978-0-545-90574-9


“I see my light come shining

From the west unto the east

Any day now, any day now

I shall be released”

-- Bob Dylan (1967)


“When Americans are detained in North Korea, they can expect harsh conditions, with tiny prison cells little food or water and even less daylight. And their storyline is preordained: A forced confession, a show trial, a sentence to years of hard labor with little chance of appeal.”

-- New York Times, “3 Americans Remain Imprisoned in North Korea” 6/13/17


“She moved within range and raised the stone over her head with both hands, shaking. She had only one chance. If she missed, she’d scare the snake away. Or maybe it would leap at her. Get ahold of yourself, Mia.

She took a deep breath and hurled the stone as hard as she could. It struck the snake and bounced off, tumbling down onto the ground by the wall. Suddenly the snake was a coiling, writhing mass. She shrieked. She’d only wounded it! Desperate--for the meat and to stop the snake’s suffering--she ran to the wall and picked up the stone. She brought it down again on the snake’s mashed head, once, twice, three times. The body stilled, then went limp. A tremor of revulsion went through her. Tears filled her eyes.

‘Sorry,’ she whispered. She felt like throwing up.”


The year 2017 has brought a cascade of ominous headlines about North Korea dictator Kim Jong-un’s nuclear weapons program and about the death of young American captive Otto Warmbier after his release-in-a-coma from North Korea. It’s a great coincidence that 2017 has also brought the release of Anne Sibley O’Brien’s IN THE SHADOW OF THE SUN, a fictional tale about a pair of American teens escaping North Korea.


IN THE SHADOW OF THE SUN combines aspects of a survival story, a taut thriller, and an exposé of the conditions of life and death in today’s North Korea.


Best of all, this is a story in which a girl who has been in the shadow of her father and older brother comes to recognize her strength and leadership abilities.


Teenager Mia Andrews was adopted as an infant from South Korea. Her adoptive American father is an aid worker who helps arrange for food to reach starving people in North Korea. When Mia and her brother Simon accompany their father on a supposed vacation trip to North Korea, mysterious circumstances lead, in rapid-fire succession, to Mia coming into possession of  a cell phone containing forbidden and damning secret photos of a North Korean prison camp, the teens’ father being taken away by North Korean soldiers, and then to Mia and Simon going on the run, trying to make their way northward for over one hundred miles to somehow escape across the border into China.


From the first pages, when she spies her father inexplicably sneaking out of his hotel room in the middle of the night, I was caught up in Mia’s story.


Throughout the story, readers meet sympathetic North Korean characters who live under a repressive regime but are everyday people. These are people who have families, hopes, and dreams, and don’t support the actions of dictator Kim Jong-un. Short interludes between chapters reveal bits about some of these fictional North Koreans who cross paths and sometimes help Mia and Simon as the teens perilously sneak their way closer and closer to the Chinese border. One of these supportive people is Soon-ok:


“Soon-ok’s father, a farmer, had been full of zeal for building a new nation by feeding its citizens. But, inevitably, his enthusiasm and popularity had threatened someone with a higher rank--the bully party leader who controlled local matters. Her father’s ideas for improving crop yield were twisted into evidence of corruption and individualism, which everyone in the village knew could not possibly be true, but no one dared to contradict. Then came the sham of the ‘trial,’ and the sentence: five years in a reeducation camp. The one thing her father’s strength of character won was protection for his family, the official was shrewd enough to calculate that there was a limit to what the villagers would go along with, and sent her father off alone.”


Author Anne Sibley O’Brien has benefitted from her real life connection to her subject matter, having spent much of her childhood and adolescence in South Korea as the daughter of medical missionaries.


There is plenty of evil, greed, and corruption here in America. Things are not fair or equal for many Americans. But astute young readers will recognize that--as long as we vigorously protect the U.S. Constitution, which oversees our constitutional democracy and First Amendment freedoms-- there’s a big difference between life in dictatorial countries such as North Korea and the life we lead here.


Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Pickshttp://richiespicks.pbworks.com





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