Like our Newbery Buzz discussions, Janie and Betsy discuss Every Falling Star “virtually” in light of our Beauty and the Beast Adventure this month. We hope these discussions help model how to talk to the kids in your life about books!
In the fall, we reviewed a poignant memoir for teens, Every Falling Star, that chronicled one boy’s desperation in North Korea and his eventual rescue and escape from the harsh regime. So many stories, fiction and nonfiction alike, mirror the great narrative thread of Scripture itself with a “creation” opening in which the world is good and right, a “fall” middle section in which the characters and their world come face to face with the effects of sin, and a final “redemption” in which the characters are rescued out of their misery by an outside agent.
Every Falling Star is a textbook example of this. In the beginning, Sungju’s family enjoys a high place in the North Korean regime complete with all the privileges thereto. When Sungju’s father abruptly falls out of favor, the family is plunged into poverty in a rural community far from the luxuries of the capitol city. Most of the novel centers on the effects of this fall from grace as Sungju’s parents leave him, he begins to steal to keep from starving, and eventually spirals down into the lowest (and oldest) form of earning money: helping “nightflowers” find business. This isn’t a fun memoir to read, but it is a marvelous illustration of the far-reaching effects of sin in our lives and in our world, and it ends on a hopeful note.
Janie, Sungju’s spiral into greater sin and violence seems to mirror many of the 10 Commandments themselves. Once his parents are not around for him to honor, he begins to steal, resort to violence, aids adultery. Did that parallel strike you at all? How does that resonate with the idea of sin turning us into beasts?
Janie: I hadn’t made the connection with the Ten Commandments, but that’s an astute observation. Most of the boys in Sungju’s gang are orphans, although I remember one kid whose mother is weak and sick and he tries to take care of her. The state has taken the place of parents, but exercises little control over the destitute, unless they try to escape or step out of line somehow. It’s a Romans 1 progression: suppressing the truth, worshipping the creature, surrendering to a debased mind. Important to remember, though; it’s mostly the tyrannical state, not Sungju’s pride or rebellion, that drives him to beastliness. Sin distorts everything around it. This quote really struck me:
I think the worst thing anyone can do to another human being isn’t to take away their home, their job, their parents. I think the worst thing anyone can do is make them stop believing in something higher. something good, something pure, a reason for everything—hope, maybe. God, maybe.
Betsy: Fantastic question, Janie. I mentioned both the curse of sin in the individual and the curse of sin that has infiltrated all of creation in the “Beast” devotional. The Bible is clear that sin is sin. We are not told to abstain from stealing unless …. or to be kind unless…. God is a holy God, and we cannot come before him as sinners, regardless of the “cause” of sin. That being said, I do think certain environments make certain sins more likely. As our own culture makes a similar progression in suppressing the truth, worshipping the creature, and surrendering to a debased mind, we might not see poverty or tyranny like North Korea. But we do see a celebration of sexual deviancy, of the individual’s freedom to please him or herself, and the like. And our recognition of our fallen world should move us to compassion for those caught in the maelstrom (especially without the safety net of a strong, biblical church; godly family members and friends; godly teachers and other role models) rather than pride, disdain, and exclusion. Sungju certainly has no such safety net for most of the book. How do his grandparents not only provide that in the end, but model Christ’s patience with his pursuit of us?
Janie: I think Luke 12:47-48 is helpful here. Jesus is talking about being ready for the master’s return (when he will judge the world), “And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required.” It’s sobering for us who were raised in a more or less Christian culture (though less so all the time), free from fear and want, to reflect on our own disobedience (i.e., our own inner ugliness). Much has been given to us Americans, especially American Christians—what is required? Certainly, as you mentioned, a greater compassion for those who are trapped in a desperate environment like Sungju’s. Stories like his remind us of the “There but for grace” principle, but they should also spur us on to greater efforts for those not so graced—greater prayer, if nothing else. But we can also be encouraged that God is in the rescue business, and the Holy Spirit is at his redemptive work behind the scenes, all the time. Although Sungju is not explicit about coming to faith in Christ, he drops some intriguing hints. His grandparents are instruments of God’s grace to him.
Betsy: Yes! God is most definitely in the rescue business! The Queen of Katwe is actually a striking example of Christians seeking to be used by God specifically for rescue. Those of us who don’t have feet on the ground, as it were, should absolutely be praying for those that do–and we should be supporting those efforts with our dollars and actions behind the scenes. But there are plenty of places in our own communities that could use our efforts, too!