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In 1950 North Korea, 12-year-old Sora Pak dreams of continuing her education and becoming a writer. But life in the tyrannical Communist state is permeated with suspicion, fear, oppressive rules, and strictly defined gender roles. Sora and her Christian family are terrified of having their faith in God and their hidden Bible discovered by a political regime that boasts that there is no God. Discovery would mean imprisonment or death.

At the same time, Sora chafes under her mother’s strict expectations and resents that she has been taken out of school to care for her baby brother, Jisoo, while her mother works in the fields and Sora’s 8-year-old brother, Youngsoo, attends classes. Sora understands only too well that her brother is considered more valuable than she is.

As political oppression mounts and people begin to disappear because they are detained or killed by government forces or flee to freedom in South Korea, the Paks finally make their escape. When Sora and Youngsoo are separated from their parents during an air raid, the two are thrust on an exacting, treacherous journey in which Sora exceeds her culture’s expectations of what girls are capable of.

When Sora arrives in South Korea, she thinks that “one kind of freedom would automatically lead to another, that I could go to school, that I could write, that we would be happy.” But she soon realizes she is wrong. Though she has won half the battle, the other half still needs to be won—the struggle to follow her dreams.

Inspired by author Julie Lee’s mother’s experiences fleeing North Korea, Brother’s Keeper offers middle school readers a stirring portrait of a courageous female protagonist who sacrifices much for the sake of her brother and family yet persistently pursues her own ambitions. (Holiday House)

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