In the Shadow of the Sun
By Anne Sibley O’Brien
Published by Scholastic, Inc.
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years
Read an Excerpt published in Entertainment Weekly
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.
“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goes badly awry, leaving two siblings racing for freedom in a totalitarian nation armed with little more than an outdated guidebook and a few packets of airline peanuts.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.”
“Twelve-year old Mia, adopted from South Korea and raised in Connecticut, has mixed feelings about her aid-worker father’s decision to take her and her older brother, Simon, on a tour of North Korea. After arriving there, she further questions the reasons behind the trip after witnessing her father attend late-night rendezvous and discovering an illegal cell phone containing shocking photographs of conditions in the political prisons. When her father is arrested and held by the government, Mia and Simon must find a way to escape to China. Though Mia is initially unobtrusive and meek, she proves to be resourceful and determined under pressure, taking charge, navigating, scouting for sustenance, and using her knowledge of Korean language and culture. In her first novel, picture book author O’Brien (I’m New Here) presents a nuanced portrayal of North Korea; the government is restrictive and the police force divided, but the citizens’ complex perspectives and attitudes are revealed in thoughtful, interspersed dispatches. Mia’s reflections about being Korean in Connecticut versus in Korea are powerful, as is her assertion that she is “growing into both her names.”