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Brother's Keeper

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Can two children escape North Korea on their own?

North Korea. December, 1950.

Twelve-year-old Sora and her family live under an iron set of rules: No travel without a permit. No criticism of the government. No absences from Communist meetings. Wear red. Hang pictures of the Great Leader. Don't trust your neighbors. Don't speak your mind. You are being watched.

But war is coming, war between North and South Korea, between the Soviets and the Americans. War causes chaos--and war is the perfect time to escape. The plan is simple: Sora and her family will walk hundreds of miles to the South Korean city of Busan from their tiny mountain village. They just need to avoid napalm, frostbite, border guards, and enemy soldiers.

But they can't. And when an incendiary bombing changes everything, Sora and her little brother Young will have to get to Busan on their own. Can a twelve-year-old girl and her eight-year-old brother survive three hundred miles of war zone in winter?

314 pages, Hardcover

First published July 21, 2020

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Julie Lee

2 books47 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 244 reviews
Profile Image for Mobyskine.
904 reviews114 followers
January 14, 2023
How this was so heartbrokenly written I get super distressed trying to cope with the whole plot until the end. I never thought that it would be this heart wrenching, so taut and haunting; from the setting to the characters itself— this would definitely be one of my best historical reads for this year.

Set in the midst of Korean War, 12-year-old Sora and her 8-year-old brother, Youngsoo were separated from their parents after a bombing happened on their journey to fled from North Korea’s oppressive communism regime. It was winter and to rival with hunger and coldness, Sora was determined to embark her journey together with Youngsoo to escape the border until they both could safely arrived in Busan at her uncle’s house; in a hope to see her parents still alive and waiting for them.

It was so grippingly told and emotionally driven, love the plot execution and the pacing as well as its compellingly crafted backdrop— think the author did great in portraying the painful reality during the war, to bind those intense reflection with the struggles and how it affected the civilians. The characterization was my fav part as I fancy how the author managed to explore and develop each character’s POV even when it was told from Sora’s perspective.

The exploration of family dynamics were truly engaging. On strict korean traditions and customs to their patriarchal mindsets— felt really bad for Sora to have a mom that only think a son is more important than a daughter and that scene when Sora said; “…all I could think was that I had done a good job delivering what she wanted most” sending me so much heartaches :’/

The author’s note at the back leaving me with another deep thoughts thinking how this was halfly written based on a real experience by the author’s mom. Appreciate those photographs and map included as well as the historical timelines; it won’t be a ‘forgotten war’, at least to me. Such an emotional rollercoaster plot (sad, mad, displeased, happy) but it surely one that I would remember the most among my stack of historical reads, highly recommended!

Thank you Times Reads for the gifted review copy!
Profile Image for Paula M.
547 reviews641 followers
September 2, 2020
“I know your type,” she continued. “You’re a good girl. You always do as you’re told. There’s nothing wrong with that…just know your worth, too.” No one had ever said that to me before."

Reading Brother's Keeper was such a heart breaking and yet beautiful journey. After the last chapter of the book, I also teared up by reading the authors note and looking at the photos she added with it. I really know that this book is, in some way, personal. I feel honored, privileged and lucky that Julie Lee weaved this story and that we get to read it!! I will admit that even being asian myself, I am not fully educated by the Korean War way back in the 1950's. After and while reading this book, I was intensively reading tons of articles and research about the Korean War.

Brothers Keeper takes us back in the 1950's to show what living in North Korea was like back then. While escaping with their family, 12 year old Sora and his brother were separated from their parents and had to survive on their own. I just want to say that this is one of the best book covers I've ever seen as it really represents the whole atmosphere of the book. I visualized young Sora as the girl from the cover and it's just right. I really have no any qualms when it comes to the characters of this book. I'm in awe by how much I related to a 12 year old girl in the middle of a war who is just trying to survive while trying to save his brother, but I did. The way Julie Lee wrote Sora and her thoughts is incredible! I felt her sorrow, her sadness, and the little joy she experienced along the way. I did not read how she needed to grew up to survive with her brother, Julie Lee really made me, her readers, involved. I really praise the author for writing the secondary characters as well. All of them from Sora's parents to her younger sibling, they're all fleshed out and you will really get the feeling that you know so well from Sora's eyes. 

The way that the war is written is so vivid and detailed. I admit that I had a hard time finishing this book because there are some chapters that I found to be a bit slow but other that that little concern, Brother's Keeper is very readable. Julie Lee's writing is simple but its engrossing. You won't have a problem following Sora's story. It also helped that there's an indicating month and year at the start of every chapter. 

I can finish this review and just say that read this book because its about an important part of history and thats true, but Brother's Keeper is also more than that. It's about bravery, its about family and ultimately its thought provoking. I understand this book is marketed for YA/MG readers but I would really urge every Adult as well to take the time and read this book. Soras story can be dark and emotional, but it also brings hope. Overall, Brother's Keeper is a necessary and powerful book!
Profile Image for Josiah.
3,211 reviews146 followers
August 30, 2021
Add another to the list of all-time great debuts. Brother's Keeper is a story of intense action and emotion during the Korean War, one of the least talked about military engagements of the twentieth century. Twelve-year-old Sora Pak lives with her parents and younger brothers, Youngsoo (age eight) and Jisoo (age two) in a North Korean village in the year 1950. It was only a few years ago that the Korean Peninsula regained independence from Japan, but now communism has taken root. Heavily influenced by Soviet social mores, North Korea under the rule of Kim Il-sung has become an authoritarian state, forbidding any dissent to the Communist Party line. South Korea, which adopted American traditions and became a free society after World War II, is now at war with its neighbor to the north, and Sora Pak's family isn't sure what to do. Should they attempt escape to South Korea, or continue paying lip service to Kim Il-sung's regime so they can keep their home even as the nation falls apart and violence rises everywhere? Sora's abahji—father—wants to leave before the Party finds an excuse to shoot them in the streets like so many other citizens, but her mother—omahni—fears what will happen if the government catches them on the run. Sounds of gunfire puncture the night air closer and closer to where the Paks live; what will it take to convince Omahni to abandon their home?

It wounds Sora's heart to see good friends flee under cover of night, friends she'll likely never see again, but in truth her losses started before the war. An independent-minded girl in a culture that sees boys as more valuable than girls, Sora was grieved when Omahni pulled her out of school to learn housekeeping. How will Sora ever marry well if she doesn't have a good grasp of domestic engineering, her mother asks? A dutiful daughter, Sora obeyed Omahni even as it pained her to be kept away from school. Sora wants to be a professional writer someday, but is that possible for a middle-class girl from North Korea? Would migrating south give her freedom to be educated as she wishes, or would she still be constrained by Omahni's designs on her life? Sora may find out soon: as the war nears their village, the Pak family finally evacuates, headed for the South Korean city of Busan where Omahni's brother lives with his family. The long road to get there is congested with refugees, and the threat of attack by North Korean law enforcement looms large, but Sora almost feels hope as she and her family tread mile after mile toward Busan.

The situation verges on all-out crisis until a massive bomb drops, killing many of the refugees and separating Sora and eight-year-old Youngsoo from their parents and little brother, Jisoo. Sora wants to believe they survived the blast, but mangled bodies are everywhere; is it reasonable to think her missing family members aren't among them? Fighting the instinct to turn back home, Sora gathers a terrified Youngsoo and they resolutely head in the direction of Busan. If Abahji, Omahni, and Jisoo are alive, that's where they would go. Fractured families are everywhere, sobbing for dead loved ones and despairing of ever making it to South Korea, but Sora won't let her parents' death be in vain; if she and her brother don't reach freedom, then what was gained by Abahji and Omahni's ultimate sacrifice? However grotesque and violent the road ahead gets, Sora will follow it to the end.

Running away from Kim Il-sung's oppressive government, Sora hopes for something better, but finds mixed results en route to Busan. Some adults pity Sora and Youngsoo, and share with the children what limited provisions they have; others would betray them in a heartbeat for food or medicine from soldiers eager to satisfy darker appetites than Sora wants to think about. She meets brave people and cowards, moral and immoral, freedom-loving and authoritarian along the way to South Korea. Sora can't easily discern the good from the bad, but Youngsoo depends on her for everything, especially as he develops a bronchial infection that has Sora doubting he'll survive much longer without intervention. She and her brother wither into little more than living skeletons, consumed by starvation and sickness. Traversing hundreds of miles of treacherous land, and wide rivers crossable only by a few rickety, overpacked wooden boats, Sora senses that Busan can't be far now, but do she and Youngsoo have the stamina to get there? Are their parents and Jisoo waiting, or did their lives end when the bomb fell? Answers await in Busan, but some may be more awful than Sora can face.

One of many brilliant aspects of Brother's Keeper is its intuitive portrayal of authoritarianism. There are no eloquent political speeches decrying communism, socialism, safetyism, and other anti-freedom mindsets; the story is more than enough to show what happens when collectivism becomes the moral value and all disagreement is eliminated, violently if necessary. Even those like Omahni and Sora who aren't naturally outspoken about politics eventually have to take a stand when authoritarianism seeps in and begins to rot the culture from the inside out. One can tolerate attacks on individual liberty for only so long before a counterattack is essential, or death will come without so much as a whimper on your part, the shameful demise of one afraid to fight for what matters most. Sora sees this contrast early on when a neighbor boy, Myung-gi, encourages her to consider escaping North Korea with his family. She voices apprehension that the government will react severely, a possibility Myung-gi acknowledges. "Don't you think I know that? But there are some people who've made it across to the South. You can't let fear control you." "That's easier said than done," Sora replies, and she's right. It's easier to keep your head down and hope for the best, but authoritarians never let you stay neutral forever. Sooner or later you'll have to either stand up for yourself or fully comply with the regime's agenda, and that choice almost always comes sooner than expected.

Mixed in with Sora and Youngsoo's flight to freedom is vivid memories of her contentious relationship with Omahni, who is convinced that Sora's only avenue to happiness is adherence to traditional gender and family roles. Being a wife and mother may appeal to Sora someday, but for now her passion is writing. She needs a classical education to prepare for that future, but Omahni has forbidden her from attending school. Sora wishes they could frankly discuss the matter, but Omahni is horrified at the thought; no proper young lady talks back to her mother. It distresses Sora to wonder if she is a bad daughter, ungrateful and uncaring as Omahni says, but is she willing to give up her dreams and stay silent? Sora has been trained to submit since earliest childhood, but she finds the courage to push back at one point after Omahni calls her an "incompetent girl". "I'm not incompetent...I just want to do something different. Don't you ever want to do something different?" Sora desires to live a life that aligns with her own interests and values, not one preselected for her by society. She wants freedom not just from authoritarian politicians but from cultural constraints, and in some ways standing up to Omahni will be as hard as resisting the North Korean regime. Growing up isn't easy.

Brother's Keeper is a stunning repudiation of tyranny, vice, and other evils that plague the human race. What stands out most about the book, though, is its emotional core, which heats up to devastating degrees before we turn the final page. I wept and wept at certain parts, the narrative is so real and raw; I’d compare it to the finest work of authors E.B. White, Irene Hunt, Katherine Paterson, Barbara Park, and Cynthia Kadohata. A few scenes in the concluding chapters are seared into my memory, scenes I consider among the best ever for young readers. I would have awarded Brother's Keeper the 2021 Newbery Medal, and I'll probably always consider it among the best novels I've ever read. Bravo, Julie Lee. Your book is a true wonder.
Profile Image for 【Afi】 (WhatAfiReads).
414 reviews318 followers
January 14, 2023
This book has no business on making me cry so much. Literally having a huge headache cause I was literally sobbing reading the last 30 pages it bloody hurts.

"“Although I had known it was coming, nothing could’ve prepared me for this moment, this feeling of utter loss and loneliness.”

Honestly, I knew that somewhere somewhat, this book will break me, but lord, I didn't expect it to hurt this much. This book deserved every award that it has won and nominated. Its the story of refugees and hope, of the war that is still ongoing even until now, of families that are separated, and of love and a sister's love towards her siblings.

Since I don't think my emotional capacity allows me to write this thoughts out rationally (cause I'm writing this right after finishing the book), these will be raw accounts of what I felt the whole time reading the book.

1. The Realities of War
The North Korea and South Korea dispute is amongst one of the "Forgotten Wars" that is still talked about as the war has never really ended until now. Its always hard to read about the war, especially coming from North Korean refugees, who sacrificed their life to escape from their country. I've always watched documentaries related to North Korean refugess, and honestly, I can never imagine to be at their place, in our modern world now, escaping a country and leaving your home. The fact that this book is roughly based on the experience of the mother's author makes it more heartwrenching. We go through the story of Sora and her family escaping North Korea during the Korean War and how along the way, she got separated with her family with her brother. The fact that she was only 12, made it heartbreaking to read; as, eventho this book is fiction, its based on real events, and somewhat may be the stories of real people. Famine, hunger, sickness and just the act of survival is one that I can never imagine to put myself into and my heart goes all out for the people that are still going through wars in their home country.

"War is no cause for celebration.

2. Sibling Rivalry and Patriarchy in Households Especially in Asian Households
Its no secret sons are considered more worthy than daughters, especially during the 1950's. The sibling rivalry in this story, is something that, honestly you can't blame anyone but only the beliefs of the people at the time that made them to think to have the feelings of rivalry in the first place. Honestly, as much as I want to hate the mother, I can't blame her either and I don't blame Sora or Youngsoo or even Jisoo. These are people that are caught up in the beliefs that women are supposed to only serve whilst men or sons is pampered and needs to be taken care off. Asian Households specially made this real clear and its something that even our society struggle until today. The author had made a good job on showing the inner feelings of each characters, even if the POV is from the voice of Sora.

3. The Child Who Became A Caretaker
I sobbed. So bloody hard to a point it hurts. I guess being caretakers of my younger siblings made me really understand how Sora had felt, and how she had to take the blame for almost everything as she is the eldest daughter and has two younger brothers. I feel that, even if each children has their own roles in the family, the child who became the caretaker holds much more burden in her heart and more resentment sometimes, especially to her mother. I'm frustrated with Sora's mother, but I also understand where she's coming from. Its hard when as a woman especially, we understand the hardships that our mother goes through and it made us emphatic but also, we still felt helpless. In some ways, I liked that the author showed this and its hard reading the feelings of only a child having go through these mindset.

4. The Realities of Refugees
In war, there will always be refugees, and the lives of them are ones that we often forgot or we became oblivious to their hardships. In the case of Sora's family, they were lucky enough to have a family in the South, but what of those who have none to survive? It pains me to read the situations and in war, there is no happiness that comes with it. Only hardships and pain.

Overall, besides some writing technicality aspects, this story stole my heart in more ways than one. I might rewrite this review later cause my head is in shambles, but overall, this is definitely a read that I will remember for a very very long time. Biggest thank you to Times Reads for this copy.
Profile Image for Ris Sasaki.
916 reviews162 followers
September 25, 2020
#WhimsyReadathon Adventures Through Wonderland book 5 ✨

Wow. Just wow.
I really don't know and understand how people are not talking and raving about such an important and emotional book as this one.
Their loss because this was simply phenomenal.
Profile Image for Suja.
133 reviews5 followers
January 14, 2023
One liner: Absolutely amazing book

Synopsis : It’s the year 1950 and the Korean War has started between the North and South. North Korea has crossed the 38th parallel in an effort to invade South and unite Korea under communist rule. Living in North meant living under fear and strict rules. Permits for travel to next town, worshipping in hiding, attend party meetings and wear armbands supporting fatherland. When trying to flee from the war and the communist regime, 12 year old Sora and her eight year old brother Youngsoo are separated from their parents when a bombing happens on the way of their escape. It’s now on Sora to make sure she and Youngsoo crossover to South Korea and also reunite with their parents. Can they survive the long walk in the harsh and bitter winter in the war zone? Rest of the story details everything else. The whole story comes to us in first person voice of Sora.

My thoughts:
* Gripping storyline, the plot doesn’t lose pace anywhere and well crafted war background. War is never good, nobody comes out as a winner is a point that gets driven and I give kudos to the author for developing the story so well without dragging or overcompensating.
* Explanations of Korean traditions and the family dynamics. Like any other other Asian society, Korean families are also plagued by patriarchal mindset. This whole angle adds so well to the plot on a whole. It’s brought out in subtle thoughts and actions and not so subtle ones too ! As a reader, I felt sad and sorry. I wanted to things to change.
* The character development is so good. You see Sora growing and changing. This is done with so much ease and as a reader you blend into it. There are no sudden accelerations. Another best thing being even though the story is from Sora’s POV, the other characters POV is developed so well without any glitches. You get the perspective on a whole and not a biased one.
* Last but not the least, even though this is a fictional story most of the events in the story did occur. It is also partly based on the author’s mother, a 15 year old living in North Korea during the war. I loved the story, the characters and the writing.

P.S. Don’t forget to read the author’s notes at the end of the book.

My rating 4.25 rounded to 4
Profile Image for Sisters Three.
91 reviews85 followers
November 4, 2021
This was so sad!!!!!!!!!!!! I cannot believe that they made it all the way to Busan and then Youngsoo dies...WHat the Crap! This had me in tears last night, I was so distraught...I don't usually get like that but this book, I don't know, did something to me...It was a beautiful story, but unless you are willing to have your heart ripped out don't read it....I am still recovering...
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Gerald The Bookworm.
162 reviews184 followers
July 4, 2021
Sora and her brother, Youngsoo's journey of going to South Korea to escape North Korea is so heartbreaking and thought-provoking.

What I like about this book is how short the chapters are, feeling ko tuloy ang bilis bilis ko magbasa.

Ilang beses din akong nagteary-eye dahil awang-awa ako sa pinagdadaanan ni Sora at ni Youngsoo, the worthlessness that Sora felt just because she is a female, and of course, because of this one scene na ayokong mangyari pero nangyari pa rin.

Wala talagang nagagawang mabuti ang giyera and those people who gain profits from this kind of situations should burn at the hottest side of hell for eternity.

Anyway, 4 stars kasi very straight to the point ang narration which is understandable naman kasi 12 years old lang si Sora when all of this happened but I just craved a little bit more of vivid narrations and emotions. But still a very important book and I think everyone should read this.
Profile Image for Christy.
654 reviews
April 21, 2022
I cannot ever recall reading anything about North or South Korea, so I was very interested to get a Middle Grade perspective of this topic. Sora is a 12-year-old girl, and she has a younger brother who is 8. Things are horrible in North Korea, and when War breaks out, Sora and her family decide they will travel to the most southern part of South Korea, called Busan. Things happen, and the two kids are forced to travel all that way on their own. It is definitely a story about survival and family. Sora's mother infuriated me in this book, and just the way girls were basically thought of as disposable or unimportant. Loved this book... heartbreaking, yet beautifully written!

Profile Image for Kimia.
40 reviews3 followers
May 22, 2023
قلبم از غم این کتاب سنگینی میکنه.
Profile Image for TheGeekishBrunette.
1,177 reviews29 followers
July 16, 2020
Thank you to the publisher for the arc in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.

I don’t even know where to begin with this one. I knew that it would emotionally be a hard read because earlier this year I read In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom by Yeonmi Park and it reminded me of events from that book.

Brother’s Keeper is written in the time period of the early 1950’s and correlates with The Korean War. I haven’t read any books about it (non-fiction or fiction) and so I was very curious to get my hands on it.

Sora wants nothing more than to be able to go to school and have her dreams come true. This is hard to do when her mother wants her to become the perfect wife and learn to take care of a household. She is pushed around a lot and it’s really sad to read about. I can’t imagine what it would be like to constantly have a mother talk about her sons and never about her only daughter. Not only does Sora have to try and live up to her mother’s expectations but she also has to find a way to survive with her brother.

The book is split into parts and also chapters. In each chapter there is usually a scene that takes place in the past. I liked those because it helped round out the story and give more details about the other characters that are introduced and the family dynamic before everything starts to unfold.

As for the plot, it is hard to read at times but its one that is also hard to look away from. I found myself not wanting to put it down because I needed to know what would happen next. Will they make it? What will happen to her family? Will there eventually be a happy ending? All of these questions and more would circle in my head and I would just get so anxious reading it. There are many issues presented like war, family, and even the role as a daughter. Each one is well done and definitely make the book a real tearjerker.

Overall, this was a very well written book. I liked reading the author note at the end where it talked about getting research and some of it coming from the author’s own mother who lived through it. This may be fictional but it’s easy to see how real many of these events could be. If you are interested in books like this/ historical fiction, I’d highly suggest checking this one out. It may be an emotional ride but I think it’s one that’s worth taking.
Profile Image for Rose (Adventurous Bookworm).
708 reviews95 followers
July 28, 2020
You know the times in history that no one speaks about? Well, this book was not afraid to talk about the Korean War and how it affected the citizens living in the North and South. I was shocked to learn that this was based upon the story of the author's mother when she escaped from North Korea as a young girl.

Did you see the cover??? It is so accurate to the story and also engrossing. (ok, fine, I first picked this up because of it.)

This book featured both history and culture which I'd love to see more of in middle-grade.

One thing that really stood out was the healing of broken relationships. Some characters had to learn how to listen and forgive.

At times the story got a little slow but when it did, the writing pulled me back in fairly quickly.

Overall, I'd read this again and would recommend it to anyone looking for a book that isn't afraid to tackle different topics.

Rating: 4/5

Language: n/a

Romance: n/a

Spiritual: The characters are unable to go to church due to the government.

Violence: There was a lot for a middle-grade. Yes, this is set during war but it was a bit more than I expected at times.

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher. All thoughts are my own and a positive review was not required.
Profile Image for Amanda .
701 reviews13 followers
March 17, 2021
I've read many nonfiction books about North Korean defectors but I haven't read many fiction books about people living in North Korea, especially middle grade fiction books. This book has a very watered down view of what life is like for people living in North Korea but for a middle grade reader, it would be a great introduction to the topic.

As well as themes of loyalty, collectivism, and poverty, there's also an emphasis on obedience and perfection that the main character found it hard to live up to.

This is a great book!
Profile Image for Emma Kershaw.
9 reviews1 follower
July 28, 2020
This book takes you on such an emotional ride. It makes you feel for the main character and everything that she has to go through!! I couldn't stop reading it :)
Profile Image for Anna :).
11 reviews27 followers
January 24, 2021
History. Sad. Escaping North Korea. Family problems. Vivid. Humanity. Heart wrenching.
Profile Image for Kat Elle.
230 reviews
June 26, 2021
This book made me weep.

I wept for the civilians who were greatly affected by the Korean war, not just during 1950s, but even up to this day.

I wept for Sora and all the other Asian girls who were disregarded, belittled, and forgotten by their parents and the society.

I wept for the heartache of losing someone so important to you after you’ve been through a lot for and with them.

This book made me weep and I’m not ashamed of it.

More of my thoughts about this book on Trihoes x In Cosmic Dreams live discussion on my channel:
Profile Image for Kara.
195 reviews1 follower
July 14, 2022
I LOVED this story. So many emotions as it was a read aloud to my 12 and 13 yo boys. The hardest thing about these is when I’m reading and get emotional, and have to stop because I’m crying.

A great work of historical fiction during the Korean War about a family heading from North to South to escape communism. Such a journey along the way-so heartfelt. A great read for late elementary/middle school age (and as an adult, I loved this one myself!) Keep the tissues handy!
Profile Image for Barbara.
13.1k reviews271 followers
May 14, 2020
There are simply not enough books about Korea or the Korean War in print today, and given the importance of that country and that part of the world, it seems important that this dearth of fiction and nonfiction be remedied. In this story, based somewhat on experiences of the author's own mother, readers gain insight into what life was like in North Korea in 1950. Twelve-year-old Pak Sora and her family have endured under the repressive regime that has pitted neighbor against neighbor, barely eking out a living and always living under suspicion. The start of the Korean War offers Abahji a chance to escape, and he gathers the family on a trek to the south. But the family is separated during a bombing, and Sora must forge her way onward with her little brother, Youngsoo. Although she loves her sibling, Sora also resents having to take care of him and having been forced to quit school because she was a girl and needed to work and help out at home. She makes mistakes along the way and faces severe cold and exposure, starvation, soldiers, and deceitful and mistrustful individuals along the way to Busan, the family's original goal. She also encounters individuals with kind and giving hearts. The idea of children having to make their way through a war zone alone is horrifying, and the author does a fine job of putting readers right into the thick of things. Readers' hearts will be broken by Youngsoo's growing frailty, and they are sure to relate to Sora's conflict with her mother who seems unable at many points to give her daughter much credit. Although there were some parts of the book such as the bombing that made me a bit skeptical, I raced through the book to see how things would turn out, fully invested in this story of struggle and survival and triumph against great odds and with great costs. Caregivers and teachers looking for a story that will leave readers riveted by every page and shocked by all the challenges these children faced will find it in these pages.
Profile Image for Becky B.
7,492 reviews93 followers
May 6, 2022
Sora and her family are tired of the restrictions of the Communists in their North Korean village. As the beginnings of the Korean War rumble, her father decides it is time to escape the religious and ideological persecution and get to South Korea. Her mother has a brother in Busan, and the family decides to head there. But as they sneak out at night with what they can carry, Sora and her 8 year old brother are separated from their parents and baby brother. Can Sora get the two of them to Busan in winter across a war zone safely?

The author says in the back of the book that this story is largely inspired by her own mother's escape from North Korea to Busan during the start of the Korean War with one brother. The author clarifies how her own mother's journey differed from Sora's and the inspiration from other survivors' stories she used to change the tale. It's a sobering look at the perilous trips refugees make to escape to freedom and safety, and informative and unique look at the Korean War different from anything else I've read on the time period. We have several Korean students at our school who I think will be super eager to read this, but I'm also glad to have it for any of our readers to learn more about this time period. Highly recommended.

Notes on content: One use of profanity. No sexual content (one lady they come across talks about kidnapping and selling Sora, but Sora has no idea what she means by that). There are several deaths witnessed and one hits very close to Sora. It is mentioned that some of the adults in Sora's life drink and smoke.
Profile Image for Susan.
965 reviews65 followers
November 4, 2020
I've never read a novel set during the Korean War, so I was excited to read BROTHER'S KEEPER. Like most war books, it tells a heart-breaking, harrowing tale. The storytelling gives the novel a very personal feel, probably because it was inspired by the author's mother's real-life experience escaping North Korea during the war. Lee creates an atmospheric setting that feels bleak and desperate, helping the reader really FEEL what the characters are going through. Sora is a sympathetic character, one who's admirable for her loyalty and bravery while remaining relatable because of her very human frustrations and jealousy. All of these elements work together in perfect harmony to create a vivid, intimate, and moving reading experience. Although BROTHER'S KEEPER is undeniably sad, it's also illuminating and hopeful. Kids might not be drawn to these types of novels, but I sure am. I'd give this one 4 1/2 stars if I could - since I can't, I'm rounding up.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
966 reviews71 followers
January 4, 2022
A very vivid description of Sora's harrowing early life. Julie Lee has a simple but rather beautiful and evocative writing style that really conveys Sora's emotions. I cried near the end when her brother died. It was just heartbreaking. I haven't lost someone but it's one of my greatest fears, especially losing a sibling, and so I really felt for Sora.
Profile Image for Jess.
Author 5 books90 followers
May 9, 2021
*I received a eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to Holiday House*

Sora lives in North Korea with her parents and her two younger brothers. Their lives are tightly regimented by the communist government, and doing anything forbidden or speaking out of turn can result in people being taken away and never being heard from again.
When war breaks out between North and South Korea, Sora and her family leave their home behind and head for the safety of Busan in South Korea. But when Sora and her brother become separated from the rest of their family, they must try to make their way to Busan without them.
Can they survive the hundreds of miles they need to travel to reach Busan, all while trying to keep warm, find food and shelter, and avoid enemy soldiers?

Going into this novel, I didn't know any details about the war between North and South Korea, so it was very eye-opening in that regard. I didn't realise how bad and awful a time it must have been for people, or how many people were affected. I didn't even know that America was involved in the war, so I clearly have a lot to learn about that time.
Sora was a likeable and relatable protagonist. She loved learning and going to school, but had to give it up to look after her brothers. Her relationship with her parents was interesting as they didn't always see eye to eye.
Sora's brother Youngsoo was quite sweet and likeable. I could tell how much he loved Sora.
The setting was interesting and unique - I hadn't read a book set in 1950s North Korea before. The fact that sons were treated as so much more important than daughters was very infuriating, and made me feel so sorry for Sora.
The story is one that is very personal to the author, and I thought they did a very good job with the way they handled such traumatic and heart-breaking scenes.
The plot was enjoyable (as much as a book about such events can be), but I did find the pacing a little slow at times, and I wasn't gripped by what happened. However, I still found this to be an enjoyable, unique and important read.

Overall, this was an enjoyable, unique and important read.
Profile Image for Paige.
1,723 reviews79 followers
July 20, 2020
Disclaimer: I received this arc from the publisher for a tour that is no longer happening. Thanks! All opinions are my own.

Book: Brother’s Keeper

Author: Julie Lee

Book Series: Standalone

Rating: 5/5

Diversity: Korean characters!

Recommended For...: Korean characters, historical fiction, middle grade

Publication Date: July 21, 2020

Genre: MG Historical Fiction

Recommended Age: 13+ (war, scary scenes, starvation, death, violence, slight gore, sexism)

Publisher: Holiday House

Pages: 304

Synopsis: North Korea. December, 1950.

Twelve-year-old Sora and her family live under an iron set of rules: No travel without a permit. No criticism of the government. No absences from Communist meetings. Wear red. Hang pictures of the Great Leader. Don't trust your neighbors. Don't speak your mind. You are being watched.

But war is coming, war between North and South Korea, between the Soviets and the Americans. War causes chaos--and war is the perfect time to escape. The plan is simple: Sora and her family will walk hundreds of miles to the South Korean city of Busan from their tiny mountain village. They just need to avoid napalm, frostbite, border guards, and enemy soldiers.

But they can't. And when an incendiary bombing changes everything, Sora and her little brother Young will have to get to Busan on their own. Can a twelve-year-old girl and her eight-year-old brother survive three hundred miles of warzone in winter?

Haunting, timely, and beautiful, this harrowing novel from a searing new talent offers readers a glimpse into a vanished time and a closed nation.

Review: Overall, I thought this was an incredible novel! I loved the character development and world building. I didn’t know a lot about the Korean War (which I should have learned because my grandfather fought in it) but I loved seeing the events unfold here. The book is also well paced and I loved that the books journey is based on the route the author’s mother took during that same time.

However, this book is a very hard read, which is why I upped the age range. I think this is an important read and should be considered for required reading for middle grade classes, but it’s a very hard book to read at some parts.

Verdict: A very important read!
Profile Image for Cherlynn | cherreading.
1,559 reviews766 followers
May 31, 2021
4.5 stars 😭😭😭

✨ "We weren't just running. We were being chased."

A harrowing and gripping read about a family fleeing North Korea during the Korean War. Or rather, it's mainly about two young children because they get separated from their parents and baby brother halfway through the journey.

The author paints such a vivid picture of the children's journey to Busan:

I can't even begin to imagine the horrors that they have to face, the odds they have to overcome and all that they have to endure in search of a safer and better life. Especially considering how these refugees are getting attacked from both sides of Korea during their perilous journey.

Aside from war and survival, this book also deals with heavy topics such as grieving the loss of a loved one and gender norms. The protagonist was extremely well-written; the book highlighted her struggle with wanting to pursue an education and her dreams instead of conforming to familial and societal expectations, as well as her conflicting feelings when it comes to her family (especially her siblings).

Although this is a children's novel, I would have preferred more details about life in North Korea and its regime. Still, this is a book I highly recommend.
Profile Image for Debjani Ghosh.
133 reviews15 followers
September 26, 2020
My Blog

Brother’s Keeper by Julie Lee charts a North Korean family’s harrowing escape from its country’s oppressive regime to the democracy of South Korea. Braving border guards, napalm, frostbite, air raids, bombings, and the bitterly cold Korean winter, can this family arrive unscathed at their destination? You will have to read the book to find out.

Brother’s Keeper is a tale of so many things. It is a tale of a family struggling to survive in bleak conditions yet so full of love for each other. It is equally a haunting portrait of how war rips apart families and turns men and women into a husk of their former selves.

Moreover, it is as much about freedom from the punishing regime of North Korea as it is about freedom from a patriarchal society. Sora is forced to grow up sooner than was necessary – first, because she is a girl and second, because of the war. Lee beautifully expresses Sora’s longing to be a child, to be free, to read and learn, and not be stuck at home caring for her brothers. Further, she brilliantly captures the bond between siblings and Sora’s devotion towards her younger brother, Youngsoo.

It was so effortless to slip into Sora’s world and watch her first being sad at being pulled off from school, then watch her perform her daily chores listlessly, followed by her escape to South Korea with her family braving extremely harsh conditions thanks to Lee’s evocative writing. This also resulted in a smoothly flowing story. Every time I started reading the book, I did not realize how fast time flew. Vivid descriptions of the North Korean countryside further bolster the strength of the book.

There is a scene (at the very end) when Sora discovers her map in Youngsoo’s pocket. To elaborate it will lead to spoilers. However, suffice it to say that Lee’s poignant writing moved me to tears.

I highly recommend Julie Lee’s Brother’s Keeper to lovers of middle-grade fiction as well as contemporary literary fiction. I will read Lee’s future works for sure. However, be warned, there are graphic descriptions of war, so, read this book if you are comfortable reading such scenes.

Many thanks to the publisher for the digital copy of my book. This does not affect my opinion on the book.
Profile Image for Kevin.
155 reviews12 followers
March 26, 2023
This was 100 times better than I expected and this was a 5-star prediction!

This is the story of Sora who grew in a small village in North Korea. As the war makes their lives unstable, her family decides to flee south to Busan, South Korea during thee harsh winter. Early in their travels, Sora and her younger brother Youngsoo were separated from their parents and baby brother and Sora had to do everything she could to make sure she and her brother made it safely to Busan, hoping to reunite with their family there.

The descriptions of what happened with and around Sora was done in such an organic way that I wasn't shocked or confused by sudden changes. There were moments that made me smile and moments that made me cry. And moments that made me glue my eyes to the page.

This might be one of the best books I've read this year.

Trigger warnings:
Profile Image for Brietta.
10 reviews
June 13, 2022
This book ripped my heart out and stomped on it, then gently soothed it with love and hope.
The work and research the author put into it is apparent in how real it feels. The story has the depths of many layers just as we see in our own lives. Sora struggles through oppression and war, and a harrowing journey. But at the same time, battles the struggles of a twelve-year-old girl and sister, frustrated with having to put the needs of her younger siblings before her own and tradition that dictates that she, as a girl, should only prepare for being a wife and mother and nothing else.
Sora struggles with the pains of growing up while also facing the horrors that nobody should ever have to endure.
This is a story of love, courage, hope, and endurance and gives many insights into what so many endured on the Korean peninsula during the war in the 1950s. Highly recommend!
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