North Korea is known as the most repressive country on Earth, with a dictatorial leader, a starving population, and harsh punishment for rebellion.
Not the best place for a family vacation.
Yet that’s exactly where Mia Andrews finds herself, on a tour with her aid-worker father and fractious older brother, Simon. Mia was adopted from South Korea as a baby, and the trip raises tough questions about where she really belongs. Then her dad is arrested for spying, just as forbidden photographs of North Korean slave-labor camps fall into Mia’s hands. The only way to save Dad: get the pictures out of the country. Thus Mia and Simon set off on a harrowing journey to the border, without food, money, or shelter, in a land where anyone who sees them might turn them in, and getting caught could mean prison — or worse.
An exciting adventure that offers a rare glimpse into a compelling, complicated nation, In the Shadow of the Sun is an unforgettable novel of courage and survival.
Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language, Violence, Harsh realities of life under the North Korean regime
Booklist (May 15, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 18))
Grades 5-8. Mia and her brother, Simon, are on the run in North Korea. That’s dangerous enough on its own, but they’re also in possession of a cell phone containing pictures of atrocities in a North Korean labor camp. They’re not sure where it came from, or why their father was taken by North Korean police, but they know they must get out of the country, fast. Relying on their own quick thinking, Mia’s knowledge of Korean language and culture, and a handful of kind strangers, they embark on a harrowing journey from Pyongyang through the mountainous forests to the China border. O’Brien weaves plenty of information about the country through the story, and interspersed sections describing the experiences of some of the North Koreans they meet on their trip add depth. Mia, who was adopted from South Korea by a white American family, offers some thought-provoking insight into the experience of interracial adoption. This fast-paced and tense survivalist thriller, made all the more compelling for its fascinating setting, should find broad appeal.
Kirkus Reviews (April 15, 2017)
A family holiday goes badly awry, leaving two siblings racing for freedom in a totalitarian nation armed with little more than an outdated guidebook and a few packets of airline peanuts. Adopted from South Korea as an infant by a white Connecticut family, 12-year-old Mia has grown up feeling conspicuously different from her family and peers. To help heal the rift from a serious fight with her older brother, Simon, and to encourage Mia to connect with her cultural roots, the teens travel with their father to North Korea, a country he knows well as a foreign aid worker. Mundane sightseeing gives way to danger following Mia’s discovery of a cellphone containing shocking photos from a prison camp and her father’s abduction by authorities. Simon and Mia embark on a daring cross-country journey in an effort to reach safety and alert authorities to their father’s plight. The action is punctuated by short profiles of individual (fictional) North Koreans, tantalizingly pulling back the veil of secrecy, but readers are soon plunged back into a thrilling and immersive experience reminiscent of the best spy and wilderness adventure stories. Character development is not sacrificed to action, as the siblings mature in their relationship, gaining insight into family and racial dynamics, culture, and identity. Opening information from the fictional tour agency gives readers enough background about the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to fully understand the peril the family is in. An author’s note illuminates O’Brien’s strong personal ties to Korea and gives suggestions for further reading. A riveting work that will appeal to a wide range of readers. (Thriller. 9-13)
About the Author
Anne Sibley O’Brien grew up in South Korea as the bilingual and bicultural daughter of medical missionaries. She has written or illustrated thirty-five picture books, and frequently speaks in classrooms across the country and in international schools around the world. In the Shadow of the Sun is her first novel. Anne lives on Peaks Island in Maine.
Her website is www.annesibleyobrien.com
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