Every Falling Star: The True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea

2016 Winner - Freeman Book Award for Young Adult / High School Literature Every Falling Star is the memoir of Sungju Lee, a North Korean boy who was forced at the age of twelve to live on the streets and fend for himself. Sungju tells what it was like to be alone; to have to create a new family with his gang, his "brothers"; to be hungry every day; and to fear arrest, imprisonment, and even execution. In this riveting true story, Lee, with Susan McClelland, grimly reveals that many of the freedoms taken for granted in the West do not exist in other lands…and hope is all there is to cling to. (Front-flap)
Year of Publication
Number of Pages
336 pages
Amulet (an imprint of Harry N. Abrams)
ISSN Number
Average: 5 (1 vote)


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Kayla Thoma ESL teacher

Field of Interest/Specialty: Early Childhood
Posted On: 01/10/2020

Every Falling Star is about a boy named Sunju. He grew up in North Korea. The story starts in Pyongyang. He lives there with his mother and father. He goes to school and after school activities. He also visits with his grandparents and owns a dog. Sometime after Kim Il-sung died he goes home to find soldiers taking his dog away. His parents tell him they are going on a vacation. While on vacation he starts going to a new school and sees things he has never witnessed before. He watches an execution of traitors and sees people begging. HIs mother tells him that his father is seen as a failure now and was sent away. Sungju stops going to school and they start searching the forest for food. His dad decides to leave to get money and food in China. He does not come back. After a while his mother says she is going to see her sister to get food. She leaves and also does not come back. Sungju starts begging and stealing food from people. He gets together with a group of boys around the same age. They form a gang and travel around North Korea trying to steal food and money to survive. Sungju runs into a man that he recognizes as his grandfather and he goes to live with him. He still sees his friends while living their. A man shows up to the house telling him he can take him to his father. Sungju travels with him and other men to end up in South Korea with his father. His father explains why he was sent away from Pyongyang. He said something to other soldiers that would not have been considered wrong in America but in North Korea it was considered traitorous. Sungju cannot say what it is because of the repercussions that could happen to family in North Korea. His fathers act was well known. He still has not been reunited with his mother.
This was a good book. I currently teach ESL to elementary school, middle school, and high school. This could be read to middle and high school students. However, the boys form a gang and steal food and money from people. During this time they fight other gangs for control over the rights to steal from certain markets. They also drink, smoke, and do drugs. The main character is 12 years old when he is on his own and is with the group of boys. It might be better to read excerpts of the story to middle school students. If I was reading this with ESL students, I would be cautious of the students’ backgrounds. If they have had a traumatic experience where they came from, I might not read the book.