A Dream of Lights - Kerry Drewery

A teenage girl struggles against the odds for survival in a North Korean prison camp...From the author of A Brighter Fear. Yoora is a teenage girl living in North Korea, dreaming of the lights of foreign cities while eking out a miserable existence in a rural northern village. But then she makes a mistake: she falls in love. With someone far removed from her social class. Someone dangerous to know. When tongues start to wag, her father is executed and she is taken to a prison camp in the mountains. There, escape seems even further from her grasp. But Yoora is about to learn an important lesson: love can surprise you, and it can come in many forms...

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Yoora is a teenage girl growing up in a small village in North Korea. Under the rule of Kim Jong-Il, her and her family are not permitted to leave their community. Yet Yoora keeps having dreams of a beautiful city of lights, amazing food smells, the air full of music. When she wakes, she remembers reality -- there's never enough food, every day is about endless chores and school days where the only thing taught is how amazing Kim Jong Il is and how lucky they are to have him as a leader. When she tells her father of her dream, he reluctantly reveals that what she describes is a real place, that what she sees is closer to a memory than a dream. But she's only known her village, so what can he mean?

 

I peered through my sore, swollen eyes to the blue sky above us, watching the clouds form and re-form, a tree branch wave, a bird flap its wings in freedom. Freedom, I thought, to be able to cross a border, to be able to choose.  Choose where to live or what job to do. Choose what books to read, TV stations to watch, radio to listen to. Or even choose words to question, or argue, or debate, or just to think with.

 

Yoora befriends and later falls for Sook, a slightly older boy who moves into the village. Yoora & Sook have middle of the night rendezvous when the rest of the village is asleep, one spot of happiness & excitement in her dreary existence. One night she reveals her dream to him. How she hopes to see the place one day. Only too late she discovers he is actually the son of a woman sent in to spy on the villagers and report back to the government anyone not singing the praises of Kim Jong Il. The very next day guards show up to the home of Yoora's family, rounding everyone up -- all except Yoora. On the insistence of her mother, she has just enough time to sneak out of a window and evade capture, temporarily anyway. Only hours later, Yoora is caught by a guard after having to witness her father's execution. Yoora's mother is sent away while Yoora and her grandparents are sent to a concentration camp. 

 

All that is just in the first few chapters! The rest of the story is one of survival for Yoora and her grandparents, not unlike the stories of the Jewish concentration camps. The horrors that girl has to endure and witness! There is a guard at the camp who almost instantly has it out for Yoora, really making her life hell, promising one day he will kill her, how she will never see it coming...so she has to live every day in terror and paranoia.

 

 

"My face," he said, leering at me, "will be the last you ever see as you die."

No, I thought, the last face I will see as I die will be of someone I love. Because you cannot take my imagination from me. 

 

There is one particular girl in the camp near Yoora's age -- it's not exactly a friendship that builds between them, but more of an unspoken understanding, almost like a camaraderie in misery. Just this mere acknowledgement seems to give Yoora enough incentive to fight to live past this hell. Also, strangely, she finds herself still thinking fondly of Sook though she's sure he's the one who betrayed her.

 

While I didn't find this one quite as gripping as A Brighter Fear, I was still really impressed with this story and moved by the grim yet hopeful plot. It was even more powerful after reading the afterword by Drewery, in which she talks about how these concentration camps still exist to this day! The one featured in A Dream Of Lights, she says, is largely based off of Camp 22, roughly the size of Los Angeles, California and housing approximately 50,000 people of all ages! 

 

This is such an important, must read for anyone who likes to be informed about the world we live in, and by that I mean the whole world, not just our little individual corners of it. It made me so thankful for the freedoms I was born with and, I admit, do take for granted on a daily basis. I am just in awe of Drewery's writing ability and as long as she's writing and publishing, her books will be an automatic buy for me :-)