Review by: Jamie Andrus Sheppard

Boise State University

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In Order to Live, A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom, author Yeonmi Park (with Maryanne Vollers) details some of the current human rights issues facing our world today. Yeonmi who was born in 1993 shares her personal story about growing up in North Korea and her plight to find freedom.  Yeonmi’s young innocent nature addresses these brutal topics in a sensitive light.

Yeonmi’s story reveals the harsh reality of North Korean life based on one’s social status, or “songbun”.  The desire to eliminate hunger and to be with her sister is what leads both Yeonmi and her mother to China, leaving her father behind There they enter a world unknown to them, human trafficking.  While in China, 13 year old Yeonmi is separated from her family and faced with emotional and physical trauma. Yeonmi’s strong desire to be reunited with her family in South Korea, drives her. Living in South Korea as a teenage refugee Yeonmi yearns to feel socially accepted, and struggles to adapt to the new life of freedom she states; “I never knew freedom could be such a cruel and difficult thing “(p. 217).   Yeonmi also wonders if she would be better off going back to North Korea, as long as she did not have to worry about hunger (p. 217).   However, Yeonmi discovers that education is freedom.

This book is recommended for all individuals within a university/college setting.  Students may find common ground with Yeonmi’s story, and thus be better prepared to engage with the many relevant topics that the novel addresses in the classroom and other settings on a college campus. University/college faculty and staff can utilize this book to better understand and better help “at-risk” students, who, like Yeonmi, often enter higher education with “the odds” stacked against them.

Overall, this book is an easy read because of the compelling true story which holds the reader’s attention from cover to cover. This book is highly recommended for university and college advisors. Yeonmi’s personal story of resilience instils one with the desire to fight for civil rights, including education.  Her perspective gives advisors an opportunity to understand what many millennial students might feel, and better understand what qualities and experiences student have which  lead to academic success, and likewise the qualities and feeling, which impede success. This novel is also, strongly recommended as a first-year campus read because reading a non-fiction story of resilience helps students personally understand some of the struggles other students  over-come to seek an education. This can help first year students to understand the importance of their education and place in this world.  In Order To Live is the embodiment of the importance of education, free thought, and human decency, which equals freedom. 

In Order to Live. (2015). Review by Jamie Andrus Sheppard. Book by Yeonmi Park with Maryanne Vollers.  New York City: Penguin Books,$17.00.  ISBN 978-0-14-310974-7. http://thepenguinpress.com/book/in-order-to-live-a-north-korean-girls-journey-to-freedom/

Posted in: 2016 Book Reviews
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