A North Korean Vacation IN THE SHADOW OF THE SUN

Lynn: Looking for a heart-thumping thriller? Anne Sibley O’Brien’s In the Shadow of the Sun (2017) was already a great choice, but then the political situation with North Korea got even worse, heightening its timeliness and intensity.

Twelve-year-old Mia Andrews and her surly older brother Simon—who we learn has been “mad since August”—are touring North Korea with their aid-worker father, who wants the family to see where he works and share some quality time. Mia and Simon find this a very odd vacation destination, and their father is soon arrested. Tension mounts when Mia discovers that a package she received contains a phone with extremely dangerous photographs stored in it.

In the Shadow of the Sun by Anne Sibley O'Brien

The siblings set about to save their father and themselves by getting the phone across the Chinese border. Somehow, these teenagers will have to traverse one of the most repressive countries in the world with little money, no allies, and a scant understanding of the language. Throw in Simon’s all-American looks, and this proves an almost-impossible undertaking.

Life-or-death adventure and a nothing-is-as-it-seems plot would be enough to make this a promising read for middle-schoolers. O’Brien, however, supplies a lot more to take away. She juxtaposes Mia’s experiences as a South Korean adoptee in a largely white Connecticut town against her trip experience where she looks like everyone else. She depicts Mia and Simon’s sibling relationship wonderfully: Mia feels, rightly, that Simon dismisses her abilities, thoughts, and potential contributions, so watching Mia’s personal growth and increasing self-confidence becomes all the more satisfying. Interspersed throughout the adventure are the reflections of various North Korean citizens, which help provide a greater understanding of the country and its suffering people.

O’Brien, who grew up in South Korea, has delivered a nail-biter of an adventure that is also outstandingly researched and packed with fascinating information and insights. Buckle your seat belts, this one’s a wild ride!

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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