Review: Every Falling Star

Every Falling StarTitle: Every Falling Star: The True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea
Author: Sungju Lee & Susan Elizabeth McClelland
Genres: Memoir, Non-fiction
Pages: 336
Publisher: Amulet Books
Review Copy: ARC received from publisher via NetGalley
Availability: Available September 13, 2016

Summary: Every Falling Star, the first book to portray contemporary North Korea to a young audience, is the intense memoir of a North Korean boy named Sungju who is forced at age twelve to live on the streets and fend for himself. To survive, Sungju creates a gang and lives by thieving, fighting, begging, and stealing rides on cargo trains. Sungju richly re-creates his scabrous story, depicting what it was like for a boy alone to create a new family with his gang, his “brothers”; to be hungry and to fear arrest, imprisonment, and even execution. This riveting memoir allows young readers to learn about other cultures where freedoms they take for granted do not exist.

Review: Every Falling Star is a compelling and intimate look at Sungju Lee’s life in North Korea when his family falls out of favor with the government. This is a personal story, and as such, it doesn’t have a wide-angled view on North Korean politics and history, which means that teens who aren’t familiar with the late 1990s/early 2000s history of the country may find themselves a little disoriented from time to time. Every Falling Star is, instead, the story of a child whose well-off parents tell him they are going on vacation only to slowly discover that his old life isn’t something he can ever return to. The book spans several years, from childhood to mid-teens. While the traveling-then-fighting-then-traveling-again sections can become repetitive, the tight focus on survival and the camaraderie between Sungju and his fellow homeless gang members generally keeps the story moving at a good pace.

Lee does an excellent job anchoring the reader with sensory details throughout the book, from describing what extreme hunger feels like to the conditions of a prison/detention center. He also takes the time to explore the good moments, and the frequent circling back to hope and friendship helps prevent the reader from becoming desensitized to what can be a brutal story. Lee and his fellow kotjebi (homeless kids) do whatever they can to survive, from stealing from marketplaces and government farms to fighting other child gangs to performing in the streets for money. Their tight-knit group helps keep everyone alive, as best they can, though they are not always successful.

I particularly enjoyed following Lee’s shifts in thinking about his country and his life through the progression of the book. The struggle for him to reconcile what he has been taught his country is like with what he begins to experience can be heartbreaking at times, such as his decision to drop out of school and begin helping his family full-time in foraging for food. Lee takes what useful things he can from his old life—particularly military stories and even his taekwondo lessons—and repurposes them to help his group.

While I have a few minor quibbles here and there, my biggest disappointment is the rather abrupt ending. Even with the epilogue, which sketches out some information about Lee’s life after he left North Korea, it feels rather thin and inadequate after such an in-depth look at this period of his life. Some of this is undoubtedly due to Lee’s caution in revealing too much information about his family—for example, he finally learned what it is his father did to fall out of favor with the government but cannot share those details without fear of possible reprisals against what relatives remain in the country—but it actually left me concerned for a few moments that my ARC hadn’t downloaded correctly. I would have appreciated seeing more of the aftermath of Lee’s escape, but the narrative essentially cuts off once he reunites with a family member.

Recommendation: Get it soon, particularly if you enjoy memoirs. The compelling narrative and evocative descriptions make this an relatively quick read, though you may find yourself putting the book down occasionally in order to recollect yourself.

Covers I Love 2.0

Over on our tumblr, we’ve been re-posting some of our older posts and one of mine, titled “Covers I Love” focused on beautiful book covers with characters of color. Since then, a number of books have out and I thought it would be fun to make a new list of beautiful covers!

pointe1. Pointe by Brandy Colette
One of the things I love about this cover is the colors. The sunset orange of the title mixed with the soft red of the lights throwing the heroine in shadow against the black is just moving. It creates an old world glamour feel with the white smoke at both the top and the bottom. It’s such a quiet cover that masks extremely well the intense story inside.

 

 

 

 

Killer_of_Enemies_FINALquote2. Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac
I love this action shot here of the heroine of Bruchac’s dystopian novel. I feel like it captures the essence of the character well and I love that we have a Native American/Indian on the cover. I love the grey feel to the cover as the world that Lozen inhabits does feel like it’s lost all it’s luster and is very drab, while Lozen stands out as a bright spot, just as she does on the cover.

 

 

 

rebellion3. Rebellion by Karen Sandler
Is it any surprise that Tu Books has two books on my list? They clearly know how to do great covers and Oh My Goodness is this one a beauty. I fell in love with it the minute I saw it. I love the blues that give a sense of the cold world that Kayla finds herself in. I also think the model they chose is beautiful and the design of Kayla’s tattoo is beautiful which is a direct contrast of what it really stands for.

 

 

 

shadowshaper4. Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older
One of the many aspects of this cover that I love is Sierra’s hair. It is a gorgeous natural afro that is enhanced by all the colors of the world. Sierra is an artist, so the use of paint colors swirling around her head, and with her “don’t mess with me” face makes this the perfect representative of Sierra’s personality. And that is why this cover received so much love (and the novel too!)

 

 

 

whilewerun5. While We Run by Karen Healey
Just look at the intensity on these two character’s faces. What I love most about this cover is the juxtaposition of the skin tones of the two characters. It highlights the differences between the two, which is also at the crux of their relationship in the novel. If you look closely, the skin on both is cracked, like dried mud, and that further adds to the mood of the novel of these two characters trying make sense of trauma that has forever changed them and their quest to obtain ownership of their own lives.

 

 

boyinblacksuit6. Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds
I’m not exactly too sure what it is about this cover, it’s such a simple & straightforward cover, but it really moves me overtime I look at it. If I had to guess, I think it’s because it captures the essence of Matt perfectly. This is a young man who is thoughtful, as we can see by the turn of the model’s head and the way the hands are clasped together.  The cover also has a wrinkled quality to it which gives a sense of discomfort, which again, is a representative of the themes in this novel. Matt wears a fancy black suit everyday but is life is in shambles.

 

 

summerprince7. The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson
One night, I had this book sitting underneath a lamp and I noticed that it practically glows. I don’t know what materials the cover designer used, but seriously, this cover is absolutely gorgeous. The gold of the tattoos on June’s arm, in contrast with the green just gives this ethereal, out of world experience, which is exactly what this book is. As one reads, the green does have meaning which makes this cover even more fantastical.

 

 

 

ypl_woodson_Brown_Girl_Dreaming8. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Lastly, I had to include this cover because it is one of my favorite covers ever. I absolutely love the contrasts of blue against brown and this cover that gives us a gorgeous earth mixed with a gorgeous sky and a lone girl between them dreaming, her thoughts in the sky while feet are planted on earth, is everything. The sunlight behind the girl, just illuminating her slightly, adds to the focus on the dreams this young girl has.

 

New Releases

Happy early book birthday to the following new release coming out this Tuesday (7/19)!

26114232Flying (Flying #1) by Carrie Jones

People have always treated seventeen-year-old Mana as someone in need of protection. She’s used to being coddled, being an only child, but it’s hard to imagine anything could ever happen in her small-town, normal life. As her mother’s babying gets more stifling than ever, she’s looking forward to cheering at the big game and getting out of the house for a while. But that night, Mana’s life goes haywire.

First, the hot guy she’s been crushing on at school randomly flips out and starts spitting acid during the game. Then they get into a knockdown, drag-out fight in the locker room, during which Mana finds herself leaping around like a kangaroo on steroids. As a flyer on the cheerleading squad, she’s always been a good jumper, but this is a bit much. By the time she gets home and finds her house trashed and an alien in the garage, Mana starts to wonder if her mother had her reasons for being overprotective.

It turns out, Mana’s frumpy, timid mom is actually an alien hunter, and now she’s missing–taking a piece of technology with her that everyone wants their hands on, both human and alien. Now her supposed partner, a guy that Mana has never met or heard of (and who seems way too young and way too arrogant to be hunting aliens), has shown up, ordering Mana to come with him. Now, on her own for the first time, Mana will have to find a way to save her mother–and maybe the world–and hope she’s up to the challenge. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: The Way to Game the Walk of Shame

wayTitle: The Way to Game the Walk of Shame
Author: Jenn P. Nguyen
Publisher: Swoon Reads
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 336
Review copy: Digital ARC via Netgalley
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: Taylor Simmons is screwed.

Things were hard enough when her single-minded dedication to her studies earned her the reputation of being an Ice Queen, but after getting drunk at a party and waking up next to bad boy surfer Evan McKinley, the entire school seems intent on tearing Taylor down with mockery and gossip.

Desperate to salvage her reputation, Taylor persuades Evan to pretend they’re in a serious romantic relationship. After all, it’s better to be the girl who tames the wild surfer than just another notch on his surfboard.

Review: The summary was accurate. There is a playboy and a fake relationship. Most readers would have an understanding of what they are getting into with this one. I was looking for something light, humorous and good for a vacation. That was exactly the type of book Nguyen created.

Taylor is set on getting into Columbia and studying law. She’s been working all through high school to keep her grades up and she is extremely studious. She’s also someone who is terrified of getting in trouble. Appearances are important so when she wakes up in Evan McKinley’s room, she is devastated. When her best friend Carly convinces her that capitalizing on the situation will be a better solution that trying to ignore it, Taylor comes up with the plan of the fake dating. Carly also informs Taylor that, “the innocent debutante always reforms the rake.”

Like romantic comedies at the movies, if the audience is willing to suspend their disbelief, this type of story is fun and entertaining. I was totally ready for entertainment when I read this so it worked for me. There were a few things that may bother other readers though. If your pet peeve is when people say someone is “so different from all the other girls,” readers beware. This is a comment made at least four times in various forms. Love triangles not your thing? There is a bit of that here too. If the trope of a fake relationship seems too unbelievable, then again, it’s probably not the best fit, but if you are looking for a little bit of silliness and a light romance, this is a great book for the day. It’s 336 pages, but they fly by, as Taylor and Evan learn more about each other and themselves. The romance is sweet and has plenty of banter. I do appreciate banter.

Recommendation: If you’re looking for a light romance, get it soon.

 

Activism and Self-Care

Last week was a difficult one for many in our community after the murders of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and five Dallas police officers. There was a lot of discussion all over the YA lit sphere about #blacklivesmatter and #ownvoices and how important #CarefreeBlackKids2k16 is.

On Monday Camryn Garrett‘s article “Black Lives Matter Is the Bare Minimum” went up on MTV.com, and she was attacked over its content. Many members of the YA community rallied to her defense, which was a wonderful thing to see.

Today we’d like to share a small collection of our favorite YA books and book lists about activism/social commentary or fun/self-care that are written by black authors and/or star black protagonists.

Activism/Social Commentary
  • The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon
  • Fire in the Streets by Kekla Magoon
  • March: Book One by John Robert Lewis and Andrew Aydin with artist Nate Powell
  • How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon
  • All American Boys by Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely
  • X by Ilyasah Shabazz with Kekla Magoon

Full #Kidlit4Justice Booklist

Read This: #BlackLivesMatter Reads for Teens

Social Justice and Activism in YA Lit

Campaign Zero

How to Help Online

Fun/Self Care
  • This Side of Home by Renée Watson
  • Pointe by Brandy Colbert
  • Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
  • Endangered by Lamar Giles
  • Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older
  • Tiny Pretty Things by Dhonielle Clayton and Sona Charaipotra
  • Love is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson
  • Promise of Shadows by Justina Ireland
  • Perfect Liars by Kimberly Reid

Self-Care Books for African-Americans in the Wake of Recent Tragedies

2014 African American MG & YA Fiction

You Need These Books By Black Women on Your YA Shelves


Did we miss one of your favorites? Let us know in the comments!

Craft Crash Course: Creating Organic Diversity in Shiny Broken Pieces by Dhonielle Clayton

Please welcome Dhonielle Clayton to Rich in Color! Today is the release day for Shiny Broken Pieces, Dhonielle and co-author Sona Charaipotra’s sequel to Tiny Pretty Things. We are very excited about this book, and it’s a treat to have Dhonielle with us today. She has some great advice for people looking to “layer” diversity in their works.


Eoriginalveryone hates the word organic. It’s such a buzzword these days – organic vegetables, organic meat. People even want to meet “organically” and fall in love.

But my Tiny Pretty Things and Shiny Broken Pieces co-author Sona Charaipotra and I started writing together, we wanted to create a new recipe for how diversity is presented in YA fiction. We wanted to create and cultivate the concept of “organic diversity.” Translation? Our recipe centers on mining the ways our own cultures interact with our everyday lives. It’s one of the driving forces in every book that comes from CAKE Literary, the decidedly diverse book packaging we company we co-founded.

Shiny Broken Pieces picks up a few months after Tiny Pretty Things ends. The girls are in various states of chaos after what happened the preceding school year. We wanted it to read almost like the second season of a TV show. More backstory, the deepening of complex relationships, new character goals. But we also wanted to make sure the diversity of the book continued to grow.

Here are three ways we continued to layer in diversity into Shiny Broken Pieces – without spoilers:

Layer In Lived Experience:
As a person of color, there are certain truths I hold to be self-evident – but not everyone would recognize them. For example, I cover my hair when it rains because otherwise chaos ensues. And I won’t eat watermelon because the cultural context of it, as a black woman, has been drilled into me from childhood. It’s the principle of thing.

For Sona, it’s little things, too, like starting her day with a cup of homemade chai (and cringing when people call it chai tea). Or correcting people when they call her Sonia with an i.

TIP: These little things stack up to define our daily experience, and build quirks and character in an organic way. Many of them are racially or culturally relevant tidbits, and scattering these type of real life details into text is a natural, organic way to build in diversity – the lived experience of it, and the way it informs the lens through which the character views the world.

Micro-Aggressions Anyone?
The girls in Shiny Broken Pieces have a lot of feelings. They feel all the feels. All the time. And those feelings drive some of their darker impulses. However, for all three of our narrators, we wanted to explore how several of these uncomfortable moments stem from the intersection of class, race, ethnicity, and sexism.

The ballet world is already rife with racism, sexism, ageism, and every other “ism” you could name. However, for each of our narrators – one being Black American, one being White American, and one being Asian American – they navigate this milieu in three different ways. We wanted to compare and contrast how the ballet world treats them as an undercurrent to the plot. To ignore this would be inauthentic. And while there are big truths about race and culture revealed in the text, most come from small, uncomfortable confrontations – frequently moments where the perpetrator may not even realize they are being racist. Moments that all marginalized people have experienced. Often on a weekly basis.

TIP: Place your character in experiences that force them to confront their beliefs and/or interact with something else’s beliefs. Tease out their behavior. How would they respond to being mistreated? How would they react? Psychically, how would they grapple? Drown your character and make it uncomfortable.

We Are Not A Monolith:
One major thing to remember when writing diverse characters: even within a community, there is no one experience. So creating varied representation on the page is important.

In Shiny Broken Pieces, as June delves deeper into a relationship, she’s confronted with her biracial identity in multiple ways. Spoiler alert: she starts dating someone who is also Korean. This budding relationship makes her confront many new realities and feelings, but it also forces her to discover all the different ways to be Korean.

TIP: One culture is not a monolith. Use it to explore how people can have membership to a group and share commonalities yet navigate the world so completely differently.

Love Will Bring Us Together! (Or Not.)
Just like with organic meat and vegetables – and even organic love – it’s better when it comes naturally. The fun balance to writing organic diversity is to mine the real world to populate the fictional. Lived experiences and emotions help to thicken the whatever fictional universe writers create. And in YA, especially, so much of the teen experience is focused on like, lust and love.

Romantic love can be a fascinating space in which to explore interracial relations. Gigi and Alec face many challenges because of who they are and the communities they come from – they’re very different people who have had very different lived experiences. However, there are connections and commonalities that bring – and keep – the pair together. These don’t make the tensions disappear, not by a long shot.

TIP: Given the diversity of the population, interracial and intercultural love connections are organic and fascinating opportunities to explore the tensions between communities. But make sure we get why your characters – especially if they come from starkly different backgrounds – connect in the first place, and work to stay together.


dhonielle-clayton-photoDhonielle Clayton was born in the suburbs of Washington, DC and spent her childhood Saturdays at the comic book store with her father and most evenings hiding beneath her grandmother’s dining room table with a stack of books. She earned a BA in English at Wake Forest University. She was an English teacher for three years and worked with educational curriculum. Being surrounded by children, Dhonielle re-discovered her love of children’s literature and earned a masters in children’s and young adult literature from Hollins University. Currently, she is working on both middle grade and young adult novel projects. She moved to NYC where she earned her MFA at the New School’s MFA Program. She is co-founder of CAKE Literary, a literary development studio committed to bringing diversity to high concept content.