By Sungju Lee & Susan McClelland
Amulet Books, 2016. 314 pgs. Young Adult Nonfiction
As a young child, Sungju Lee experienced a life of privilege in Pyongyang, North Korea until his father was forced to flee to the northwestern town of Gyeong-seong after the death of Kim Il-Sung. There they lived in a small, unheated house and eventually used up the savings they brought with them. FInally, Lee's parents left him to hunt for food – his father heading for China and his mother to another town to seek help from relatives. When they didn’t return, Lee had to survive on his own. Stealing what he needed in the local marketplace, he eventually formed a gang of boys to steal and beg and work together to protect each other. Moving from city to city they defeated other gangs in order to control local markets for their own benefit.
The life Lee experienced as a boy was all too common during the famine that struck North Korea in the late 1990’s when many people died of starvation .The only relief from the intensity and nightmarish quality of his story is the knowledge that he lived and escaped from North Korea to tell it. Though written for young adults, for some the story will be too brutal and unendurable to read. I highly recommend this book to readers who are interested in the insular and repressive North Korean regime and enjoy reading about the personal triumphs of refugees.