Brother's Keeper

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Brother's Keeper
Author(s)
Publisher
Age Range
8+
Release Date
July 21, 2020
ISBN
978-0823444946
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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.

Editor reviews

2 reviews

moving historical fiction
Overall rating 
 
5.0
Plot/Characters/Writing Style 
 
5.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable) 
 
N/A
BROTHER'S KEEPER is a highly engrossing and heartfelt read about a 12-year-old girl and her dangerous journey from North to South Korea in 1950. At the beginning of the book, Sora lives with her parents and two younger brothers in North Korea. Sora stays at home to watch her brothers instead of going to school, where she was an excellent student and had dreamed of going to university. As a girl, her life is to revolve around childcare and domestic chores, starting now while she is 12.

Sora hates feeling like an afterthought or worthless because she was born female, but this is the culture in which she lives. When the war between North and South Korea wages on and her father may be conscripted, her family hears from their friends that they may try to flee south. The penalty if caught is death, and Sora's mother fears for their fate, as if the North wins, even their dangerous journey may be for naught. After things continue to get worse, her family decides to head south, where their relatives are.

The journey has barely begun when Sora and her eight-year-old brother, Youngsoo, are separated from their parents and toddler brother, Jisoo. When a bomb strikes where they were standing, Sora does not want to believe the worst, but she is unsure what to do- whether to go back home or head south and hope her parents will be there waiting for her.

It is a treacherous journey with death around every corner, and Sora must fight to keep herself and her brother alive.

What I loved: This book captures a story that is not often told, of the people who were caught in North Korea and chose to brave the journey south. The book is even more powerful because it is based on the journey which the author's mother had made during that time. It is not pretty, and this book speaks to familial love and duty as well as the danger, which feels omnipresent and so very real.

This is not an easy read- there are horrific scenes and the dangers are everywhere. However, this book feels so real and important because this story should also be told. Even as an adult, this book feels powerful and swept me up in its path. I cried a few times, but I think this is part of what makes it so meaningful and potent. There is also a theme of Sora finding her place in the world, especially as compared to her brothers and what people say about her as a girl that matter. This can be the reality for some girls/women and is important to consider and discuss.

There are not many books of this time period in North Korea, and this is needed. Would definitely recommend to adults and children alike (though be forewarned that there are some scenes of death and danger that should be talked through). This book can start some important conversations about the world, war, and the past.

Final verdict: Powerful and moving, BROTHER'S KEEPER is a beautiful historical fiction that transports readers to North Korea in 1950. Highly recommend for children and adults alike.
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Riveting Korean History
Overall rating 
 
5.0
Plot/Characters/Writing Style 
 
5.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable) 
 
N/A
In 1950, Sora Pak lives in North Korea with her mother (Omahni), father (Abahji), and younger brothers Youngsoo and Jisoo. She has been pulled out of school to help with her brothers as her parents work on the farm, and things have become increasingly dire in her community. Her mother is never happy with Sora's work, claiming that she can't cook and will never find a husband. Sora would rather go to college, but this does not seem to be an option. She has already witnessed the shooting of an uncle, and the Communists have limited the information coming in to the community and imposed many strictures on the people. When war arrives, things become even more burdensome: to avoid conscription, her father hides in a hole in the ground during the day. Family friends, the Kims, are planning to flee to South Korea, where there is some family in Busan. Omahni would rather carefully follow all of the unjust rules and stay in her home, but Abahji wants to flee. Eventually, circumstances force the Paks to join the exodus from South Korea. With very few supplies, they take off across the country. After an air attack, Sora and Youngsoo are separated from their parents and brother. Initially, Sora tries to retrace their journey, but quickly realizes she must leave the country. The journey is arduous and treacherous; the siblings have no food, and survive mainly by finding kimchi hidden in the farmhouses they use for shelter. Eventually, they make it to Busan, but Youngsoo is very ill. Will Sora be able to put her family back together and overcome her mother's cultural expectations to choose her own path forward?
Good Points
The Korean War is definitely an era which needs a LOT more books written about it, and I was glad to see this approached from the civilian perspective instead of the military one. Lee does an excellent job of interspersing information about the historical situation with a compelling tale of survival. The way that Sora's mother treats her shows the cultural expectations of the time, but it's good to have Sora speak up for herself at the end. Having the dates at the beginning of each chapter is helpful, and I cannot express how happy I was at the note in the back that apologized for having incorrect weather on a particular date. Now THAT'S the sort of research and attention to detail I want! Since this is loosely based on her own mother's experience, the notes and photographs about this make this story even more powerful. There are so many good things about this book that it's hard to list them all. Even the cover is excellent!

Is it horrible of me that I sort of wanted a romance to develop between Sora and Myung-gi? I think he was just such an appealing character, and Sora deserved some happiness. I would love to see a companion novel about Myung-gi's experience during this same time period.

I am very interested to see what Ms. Lee will write next! Brother's Keeper is a great book for readers who want to know more about Korean history or who enjoyed Chang Compestine's The Revolution is Not a Dinner Party or O'Brien's In the Shadow of the Sun. Survival fiction fans will also enjoy this.
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