Mia Andrews’s family vacation cannot get any worse in Anne Sibley O’Brien’s new middle-grade novel, In the Shadow of the Sun.
The young girl and her older brother Simon are accompanying their aid-worker dad on a tour of North Korea when he’s arrested for being a spy. Only it’s Mia who’s in possession of banned photographs of North Korean slave labor camps… which she and Simon have to transport hundreds of miles away to China if they have any hope of saving their father.
Complicating matters even further for the youngest Andrews is the fact that she was adopted from South Korea, thus bringing up questions about what it means for her identity.
O’Brien — who’s actually illustrated more than 31 picture books, including I’m New Here — was raised in South Korea where she grew up both bilingual and bicultural. With her first book hitting shelves later this year (June 27), EW presents an exclusive excerpt from the upcoming novel, as well as the context-setting tour guide that comes with it. Preorder the book here.
Excerpt of In the Shadow of the Sun by Anne Sibley O’Brien
When she looked down, the screen had changed. The colorful cartoon characters were gone.
A photograph, in black-and-white. A man, blindfolded. Tied to a post.
Mia sucked in her breath. Where had this come from? She zipped her finger across the screen. Another photo. The same man, still tied to the post, head slumped forward. Dark stains dotted his chest.
The two photos formed a terrible Before and After.
She wiped the screen, trying to erase the image. But it just brought up more photos. Other people.
A scrawny young boy, pushing a wagon heaped with coal. Barefoot.
A man digging with a shovel, his arms and legs nothing but skin-covered bones, his shirt open to reveal a skeletal chest.
A woman whose legs ended at her knees, leaning over a pile of corncobs, a tiny child tied to to her back. A naked doll in the mud. No, a baby. Dead.
Mia closed the game and stared at the home screen, one hand clamped over her mouth.
Simon came walking around the side of the bus. Mia leaped to her feet, then stopped. She returned the phone to her backpack pocket and left her pack on the bench. She didn’t want anyone near it. Crossing the parking lot toward the bus, she forced herself not to run.
“I need you to see something.” She lowered her voice for only Simon to hear. She could barely get the words out. “Over there.” She gestured toward the grove of trees.
“What is it, Squeak?” He looked annoyed.
“I can’t — just come.” He started to protest. She turned to him. He caught her expression, let out a sigh, and followed her.
She pulled out her guidebook first. “Hold this and pretend we’re looking at it,” she said. “Turn around so no one can see.” He frowned. “Simon, please!”
Back at the bus, none of the guides was in sight and no one was looking their way. Mia pulled out the phone, feeling as if she was holding a ticking bomb, touched the game icon, and handed the phone to Simon.
“What . . . the . . . ?!” His eyes widened and his forehead twisted. Then his mouth dropped open. His fingers jabbed at the screen. “Mia, what the hell —” He sounded furious.
“I don’t know, I don’t know. It was in the gift they gave us yesterday. I opened it this morning and there was a wooden box, and it had this phone inside it! I knew I couldn’t use it here, but I tried turning it on and it was already charged. And it had Angry Birds on it. I was just playing a game and” — she gulped a breath — “these popped up.” Her voice was ragged, near tears.
Someone called out. They both flinched, their heads snapping toward the sound. Some of the tour group members were moving across the parking lot to the bus.
“We gotta get someplace safer,” Simon said, eyes scanning. “Behind the restrooms.” He folded the guidebook around the phone and started off. Mia grabbed her pack and followed him.
As they crossed the pavement, Mia looked for Dad. There he was, over by the bus, talking to Mr. Kim. Or rather, Mr. Kim was talking to him, looking agitated. They couldn’t risk calling to him while the guides were around.
The area behind the restrooms was completely out of sight from where the bus was parked. They’d be hidden, at least for a few minutes. Simon handed the guidebook back to her and squatted against the wall, his finger moving across the screen of the phone. Mia glanced down as she tucked the guidebook into her pack, squinting her eyes as if to protect herself from what she’d see. There were more photos. Ragged people standing in long lines, their faces hollowed like Holocaust survivors. Men staggering through the rain, bent under huge loads. Another dead baby. Mia heard herself whimper.
“These . . . are messed up!” Simon sounded stunned. “It looks like the kind of things that Dad says happen in the prison camps. But I never heard of there being any photographs from the camps . . .”
“How did they get in the phone?” Her voice sounded high and scared, like a little girl’s.
“Somebody put them there. It had to be on purpose.” Simon slumped back against the wall as if exhausted. “So we have a major problem.”
“Do they . . . do the North Koreans know . . . about the phone? That the photos are on it?”
“Well, someone knows, whoever put them on the phone knows. But we have no idea who that might be.” Simon ran one hand through his hair. Took a breath. He gestured with the phone. “If these are actual photos of actual starvation and torture and executions in actual prison camps — that according to the North Korean government don’t exist — then these images are toxic.”
Mia gulped. “Dad talked about that guy who they said had a CD with photos of starving children, remember? He got sentenced to hard labor.”
“If we get caught with these images . . .” The knowledge was breaking across Simon’s face, changing his expression. “If we get caught with these, there’s no way we’re getting out of this country.”
A violent shiver went through Mia’s body. It felt as if everything was hurtling around her, like she was a balloon full of air that someone had just untied. This is what came of breaking the rules. She never should have opened the phone.
“But — but can’t we just throw the phone away? Like bury it right here —”
Simon frowned, concentrating and talking fast. “If we could hide it so that none of the wrong people would find it, but where the right people could come back for it . . . Whatever we do, we have to do it immediately. They’ll be looking for us soon.”
Mia pressed her fist to her mouth.
Simon slipped around the side of the building and leaned to peer around the corner. His body tensed. Mia ran to look over his shoulder.
Dad and Mr. Kim stood midway across the parking lot, Mr. Lee and Miss Cho just behind them. Dad was leaning toward Mr. Kim, gesturing fiercely with his hands. Back at the bus, the entire tour group — including Daniel — stood in a cluster, watching.
“Dad’s upset,” Mia said. Their father never got angry.
A black car careened into the far end of the lot. It sped toward the group in the center, screeching to a halt, the doors flying open. Four soldiers spilled out and sprinted toward Dad and the guides.
The soldiers took hold of Dad’s arms and began to walk him back toward the black car.
“Simon!” Mia grabbed his shoulder.
“They’re taking him,” Simon said, his voice cracking.
The knot of men, with Dad in the center, paused as they neared the bus. Daniel stepped forward. He spoke, then nodded at something Dad said. The soldiers continued their march, pulling Dad with them.
At the car, they pushed Dad into the backseat, one of the soldiers holding his head down, just like on TV cop shows. The doors closed. The black car circled forward and swept out of the parking lot.
Mia and Simon turned to look at each other. Simon’s eyes were wide, his mouth open.
“What the — ?” He shook his head. “What was that?”
NEXT: Read the context-setting tourist guide