Saturday, June 10, 2017

In The Shadow of the Sun by Anne O'Brien - OPTIONAL

O’Brien, Anne Sibley In The Shadow of the Sun, 338 pages.  Arthur A. Levine (Scholastic), 2017.  $18.  Language: PG (16 swears, 0 ‘f’); Mature Content: G; Violence: G.

Mia and her brother Simon are on a desperate flight across North Korea to the Chinese border.  Just hours before, they were on an official tour with their Dad, who has been here several times in his job as a liaison for a humanitarian group.  South Korean by birth, Mia was adopted by her family when she was very young.  Strangest for her is watching the North Koreans view her blond family as outsiders, where for the first time in her life Mia just blends in with the locals.  Late one night, however, she sees her father leave their hotel with a stranger – something they have been repeatedly warned against doing.  Against advice, Mia opens one of the gifts from the Korean ministry; strangely enough it contains a cell phone. The next day, their father is detained – someone reported his late night walk to the authorities.  Mia wonders if it has to do with the phone – looking deeper, she finds disturbing photos of Koreans being tortured.  Finally getting Simon’s attention, the pair decided to run – hoping that they can make it over the Chinese border.  If they’re caught, their father could be detained forever as a spy.  Their desperate flight across country will test their family bonds, their courage, and their luck. 

The author has included a lot of information about North Korea and also little vignettes inside unmasking the thoughts of various Korean citizens that the teens encounter. If students can make it past the set-up (about 60 pages), they will become engrossed in the teens’ plight.  I don’t know if they will enjoy the vignettes as much as I did.  O’Brien tries really hard to make this more than a spy novel with the North Koreans as the mysterious enemy, but in doing so, she crosses the line into preachy a little too much for the average reader.  While I certainly understand her motivation, its hard reading about it on the page instead of just letting it show in the action.  For example, why did I need to know about the Korean alphabet before I started reading?  O’Brien’s editor should have known better.

MS – OPTIONAL.  Cindy, Library Teacher

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