Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

Mountaineer Jon Krakauer had a long-lasting dream, ever since he was a little boy: to climb the world-famous Mount Everest.

Into Thin Air is, as Krakauer puts it, not exactly an autobiography but merely his own account of what really happened on the peak of Everest in the terrible tragedy in 1996.

Many people died on the expedition to Everest, like renowned guides such as Rob Hall and Scott Fischer. It appalled me to see the harsh conditions in which the climbers labored through, the various health conditions they had to endure, and just how difficult the fact of breathing was at such a high altitude.

I really enjoyed reading this book; usually autobiographies are not my favorite genre, but this one blew me away. Krakauer is very meticulous in detail, and he describes everything that happened on that mountain very specifically. I really appreciated that; I felt like I was there on the mountain with him and the other climbers, and knew exactly what he was experiencing.

The way he also described the feeling of being stranded and blinded in the middle of the snow storm on top of the world was superb. I mean, I was grabbing the book and frantically flipping through the pages, wanting to see if everyone made it out okay. They didn’t, to my horror.

In fact, in this book, I learned quite a lot of things that I had never known about mountaineering before, like these spikes on a climber’s boots known as crampons to help grip the ice, or how the climbers had to do acclimatization exercises before actually attempting to ascend the mountain.

Throughout the book, many brave climbers prevailed, and the cost of sacrifice and loss was sorrowful. Even though I had not known these people previously, I felt bad for their untimely fate. But many were brave and loyal enough to go back and and try to save their fellow climbers, and many that are alive today from the incident of 1996 thank those courageous climbers.

I’d highly recommend this book to everyone; this is one of my favorite reads! From action-packed to intense scenes, horrifying terrors to unthinkable grief, and courage and loyalty of many climbers on Everest in 1996, this book is truly excellent.

-Katharine L.

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane

Kaffir Boy, the autobiography of Mark Mathabane, is the haunting story of Mathabane’s life in South Africa under apartheid. In a world where his very existence is frowned upon, and his every movement is monitored by cruel regulations, Mathabane accomplishes feats deemed impossible by the powerful white minority of South Africa. You see, although Mathabane was talented, smart, and athletic, he was black, which, according to the laws of his country, should have sentenced him to a life of poverty and servitude in the ghettos of Johannesburg. However, in a twist of fate, Mathabane enrolls in school and discovers tennis, the sport which changed his life. The rest, up until the publication of his book, is a rollercoaster ride of revolution and rebellion that you will not want to put down for an instant.

The book begins with Mathabane’s childhood, which as you would probably assume, allowed very little room for play or fun. The opening of the book details a police raid in which multitudes of his neighbors were arrested for petty crimes, and sent to work in the countryside for unspecified amounts of time. Later, his family battles starvation. Just when you begin to wonder if times will ever look up for the Mathabanes, they gather enough food to scrape by for another day. Event after event occurs, and you begin to wonder how Mathabane, called “Johannes” in the book, even survived long enough to write the book that you hold in your hands. However, hope comes to the family in the form of education, against all odds.

As a disclaimer, I will say that Kaffir Boy is not exactly a feel-good story. However, it is wonderfully written, triumphant, and eye opening. The book is a look into a world that we tend to glance over. You probably know what apartheid was, but this book is a look into the life of a person oppressed by it. It is also exciting, and shocking in many ways. It is a must read, and I definitely recommend it to anyone and everyone.

-Mirabella S.

Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Every Falling Star: the True Story of How I Escaped North Korea by Sungju Lee and Susan McClelland

In utopian societies, life is perfect.  To young Sungju Lee, this was North Korea.  His father, an army general, was his greatest hero.  Someday, Sungju would fight in the North Korean army to beat the nasty Americans and cruel South Koreans.  In fact, when he was little, he and his father used to play a game with his father teaching young Sungju the ways of war.  North Korea would always win, for in Sungju’s mind, it was the best country in the world!  One of the strategies he used was a series of stones.  If a hideout was overtaken or deemed unsafe for the soldiers to return to, stones would be placed in front.  Little did Sungju know, this strategy would save his life.

One day, Sungju came home from school to find his parents packing up their things.  Sungju wondered if they were going to vacation to the ocean like he wanted.  But, instead they were going to the country.  Sungju then asked about where his dog would go while the Lees were on vacation.  His mother shamed him for asking, and Sungju felt bad.  He needed to be a good son so he could be in the regime and in the ranks of North Korea’s Eternal Leader, Kim II-sung.  As time passed and despite his complaints, Sungju would never return to Pyongyang.

Throughout the author’s heartbreaking story, I kept trying to push him forward.  I thought of the song “When You Believe” sung by Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey.  The lyrics speak of hope, and it was this hope which I was trying to infuse in Lee.  He endured many hardships at the tender age of 11 and suffered for five years before finally escaping the torment of his country.  Compared to other books highlighting political struggles and the impact on its citizens, this was one of the most compelling stories.  Unlike Chinese Cinderella, a deeply saddening story of a disowned little girl, everybody around Sungju loved him.  They were trying their hardest to make ends meet, but to say more would take away from Sungju’s story.

On a scale of 1 to10, Every Falling Star definitely deserves a 9 for its well-written passages and amazingly illustrated emotion.  Because Lee was not a native English speaker, when he came to the United States, he received help from Susan McClelland to lay out his story.  After finishing the book, I read an excerpt from him, saying that many of the characters’ (family members and brothers) names were changed because they were still living in North Korea.  This was done to protect them.  Please check out this book and be drawn into an intriguing story of overcoming life’s worst obstacles.

-Maya S.

Every Falling Star by Sungju Lee is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library