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When You Trap a Tiger

by Tae Keller

Published by Random House, 2020
304 pages
ISBN: 9781524715700

Ages 9-12

When biracial (Korean/white) Lily, her older sister Sam, and their mom move to Washington state to live with Hamoni, who is sick, Lily begins seeing a large tiger, which demands Lily open the jars in Halmoni’s basement and release the stories inside. Like her grandmother, Lily believes in magic. Although she knows tigers are tricksters in Korean tales, Lily says she’ll release the stories if the tiger will make Halmoni better. Lily’s effort to adjust to the move is made more challenging because teenage Sam, with whom she used to be close, seems angry all the time, while their mother is overwhelmed by Halmoni’s illness--revealed to be a brain tumor that impacts Halmoni’s behavior, and only seems to amplify the differences between the two. The small-town library becomes the source of a quirky new friend for Lily, a hopeful new beginning for Sam, and another perspective on Halmoni who, it turns out, has been a central figure in the community for years, known for sharing traditional Korean stories, food, and healing—all things Lily thought might not have a place in the predominantly white small town. The tiger, meanwhile, proves benevolent, not a trickster: The stories it wants released are painful memories Halmoni locked away: of her childhood in Korea, and loss through separation and immigration. In this moving, masterfully paced tale, Lily discovers healing can happen in the heart and mind, even if a body can’t endure. ©2020 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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