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YA Review: Brother's Keeper by Julie Lee

Title: Brother's Keeper

Author: Julie Lee

Year Published: 2020

Category: YA fiction (historical fiction)
Pages: 220
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2021 Google Reading map): North Korea, South Korea

FTC Disclosure: I received this book as a gift

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): North Korea. December, 1950.

Twelve-year-old Sora and her family live under an iron set of rules: No travel without a permit. No criticism of the government. No absences from Communist meetings. Wear red. Hang pictures of the Great Leader. Don't trust your neighbors. Don't speak your mind. You are being watched.

But war is coming, war between North and South Korea, between the Soviets and the Americans. War causes chaos--and war is the perfect time to escape. The plan is simple: Sora and her family will walk hundreds of miles to the South Korean city of Busan from their tiny mountain village. They just need to avoid napalm, frostbite, border guards, and enemy soldiers.

But they can't. And when an incendiary bombing changes everything, Sora and her little brother Young will have to get to Busan on their own. Can a twelve-year-old girl and her eight-year-old brother survive three hundred miles of warzone in winter?

Haunting, timely, and beautiful, this harrowing novel from a searing new talent offers readers a glimpse into a vanished time and a closed nation.

Review: I was so excited to read this book. We've been talking quite a bit about North Korea in my house since my daughter read The Woman with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector's Story by Hyeonseo Lee (currently on my TBR shelf). This YA novel did not disappoint.

I like that this book is about the Korean War's impact on civilians (so we don't have to read gory soldier's stories) and that it's based on the author's mother's experiences. As I read it, I thought the story was a bit much, that one person probably wouldn't do all those things, but she did! It makes the story even more amazing. 

Sora is only 12 years old, but she is mature beyond her years due to her mother's treatment of her and the insistence that Sora is responsible for her younger brothers, must get ready to get married at 16, and is worth less than her brothers since she is a girl. Through Sora's ordeal escaping the North, she learns how strong she is, how to stand up for herself, and what she really wants in life (an education).

The writing is good, it pulls the reader in and I think middle and high school students will take to this book. It's got adventure, family, danger, and hope at the end. 

Challenges for which this counts: 
  • Children's Historical Fiction--takes place in a war other than WWII, main character rides a train, and based on a true story
  • Diversity--Asian author and characters
  • Historical fiction
  • Popsugar--Set in multiple countries

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