FICTION

When You Trap a Tiger

Random. Jan. 2020. 304p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781524715700.
COPY ISBN
Gr 4-7–Lily has always loved her halmoni’s stories; Korean folktales that begin, “long, long ago, when tiger walked like a man.” But Lily never expected to encounter the fierce magical tiger in her sick grandmother’s basement, or to strike a deal to heal Halmoni by releasing the powerful stories she stole as a young woman. Keller illuminates Lily’s desperation to heal Halmoni and bring her family together through the tiger stories interspersed throughout the book; stories of heroism and self-sacrifice, of sisterhood and bravery. Yet the book’s greatest strength is in its complex human characters, from Halmoni whose traumatic immigration story spurs her to unite her community through kindness and herbal remedies, to Lily’s prickly older sister Sam, whose grief and fear stirred up by Halmoni’s illness exists alongside a budding romance with a new girlfriend. Lily worries about her invisibility and living up to the “quiet Asian girl” stereotype she hates, but she doesn’t know how else to cope with her volatile teenage sister or her mother’s need to pretend that everything is okay, despite the weight of family trauma past and present. Keller weaves ancient folklore with Korean history through contemporary magical realism. She calls on the power of stories to bring families and communities together and the ability to heal by speaking to their pasts.
VERDICT This deeply moving book is a must-purchase for all collections, showcasing vulnerable and mythic storytelling in the vein of Erin Entrada Kelly and Kacen Callender.

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