Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Brother's Keeper

Lee, Julie. Brother's Keeper
June 16th 2020 by Holiday House
ARC provided by Follett First Look

In 1950, Sora Pak lives in North Korea with her mother (Omahni), father (Abahji), and younger brothers Youngsoo and Jisoo. She has been pulled out of school to help with her brothers as her parents work on the farm, and things have become increasingly dire in her community. Her mother is never happy with Sora's work, claiming that she can't cook and will never find a husband. Sora would rather go to college, but this does not seem to be an option. She has already witnessed the shooting of an uncle, and the Communists have limited the information coming in to the community and imposed many strictures on the people. When war arrives, things become even more burdensome: to avoid conscription, her father hides in a hole in the ground during the day. Family friends, the Kims, are planning to flee to South Korea, where there is some family in Busan. Omahni would rather carefully follow all of the unjust rules and stay in her home, but Abahji wants to flee. Eventually, circumstances force the Paks to join the exodus from South Korea. With very few supplies, they take off across the country. After an air attack, Sora and Youngsoo are separated from their parents and brother. Initially, Sora tries to retrace their journey, but quickly realizes she must leave the country. The journey is arduous and treacherous; the siblings have no food, and survive mainly by finding kimchi hidden in the farmhouses they use for shelter. Eventually, they make it to Busan, but Youngsoo is very ill. Will Sora be able to put her family back together and overcome her mother's cultural expectations to choose her own path forward?
Strengths: The Korean War is definitely an era which needs a LOT more books written about it, and I was glad to see this approached from the civilian perspective instead of the military one. Lee does an excellent job of interspersing information about the historical situation with a compelling tale of survival. The way that Sora's mother treats her shows the cultural expectations of the time, but it's good to have Sora speak up for herself at the end. Having the dates at the beginning of each chapter is helpful, and I cannot express how happy I was at the note in the back that apologized for having incorrect weather on a particular date. Now THAT'S the sort of research and attention to detail I want! Since this is loosely based on her own mother's experience, the notes and photographs about this make this story even more powerful. There are so many good things about this book that it's hard to list them all. Even the cover is excellent!
Weaknesses: Is it horrible of me that I sort of wanted a romance to develop between Sora and Myung-gi? I think he was just such an appealing character, and Sora deserved some happiness. I would love to see a companion novel about Myung-gi's experience during this same time period.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and will try to get this ARC to one of my former students whose parents were from South Korea and who was always looking for more books set in that country. Very interested to see what Ms. Lee will write next! Hand this to readers who enjoyed Chang Compestine's The Revolution is Not a Dinner Party or O'Brien's In the Shadow of the Sun, or who just want to know more about Korea and its history. Survival fiction fans will also enjoy this.
Ms. Yingling


  1. Oh, yes, this looks great! Thanks for letting us know.

  2. I just scrolled through your last week of posts. My goodness, you get so much reading done! I can't imagine. You sure have some good ones on here. I added several to my TBR list. Thanks for all the reviews. I'm also looking forward to The One and Only Bob. I loved that character in the first book too.