WOW Recommends: Brother’s Keeper

Cover of Brother's Keeper, depicting a girl and a young boy climbing an icy mountain.
North Korean, 1950. What the world comes to know as the Korean War is imminent. Determined to escape the North Korean regime during the chaotic days at the onset of conflict, the Pak family joins the stream of evacuees headed to South Korea while they feel they have a chance to escape. But then there is a napalm bombing, and the throng of refugees is thrown into turmoil. What happens next is chronicled in Brother’s Keeper, a piece of historical fiction for middle grade students.

Readers are presented the harrowing story of 12-year old Sora who becomes responsible for Youngsoo, her younger brother, when they are separated from their parents during the bombing. Realizing that their family has disappeared, they must decide what they should do—turn back or continue forward. They start back but the way is closed, the fighting is between them and their home, so they decide to travel the 300 mile journey to Busan, South Korea. They are by themselves, and their very lives are on the line. They must avoid the bombings, remain cautious of other travelers, and forge the icy elements of winter. Sora must determine the way to Busan, possibilities for food, and places to sleep as she shelters her brother in hopes of reaching safety as well as reuniting with the rest of her family. The way to Busan is over 300 miles, most of which they walk. Much of the way Sora carries her eight year old brother on her back.

This is an “on-the-edge-of-your-seat” read from start to finish. Readers are given a sense of life under the oppressive regime of 1950’s North Korea, in which no one is to be trusted, and then journey with Sora and Youngsoo as they slowly, but steadfastly, make their way South. The narrative flows, holding readers in its grasp while also breaking their hearts as they come to deeply care about Sora and her determination to bring her brother to safety. With numerous starred reviews, this debut narrative inspired by the experiences of the author’s mother, allows readers to experience an historical accounting of civilians caught in the Korean War as well as a sense of life in North Korea, which still remains closed to the rest of the world. A map at the front of the book helps readers follow the sibling’s journey. A glossary and time-line at the back support the story. This is a book to be read. It is, quite simply, marvelous. This is the first book by Julie Lee. It has just been named a 2020 Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Finalist for Older Children. –Recommended by Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati.

Author: Julie Lee
ISBN: 978-0-8234-4494-6
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication Date: July 21, 2020

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