4.5 star

Review: When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller

Some stories refuse to stay bottled up…

When Lily and her family move in with her sick grandmother, a magical tiger straight out of her halmoni’s Korean folktales arrives, prompting Lily to unravel a secret family history. Long, long ago, Halmoni stole something from the tigers. Now, the tigers want it back. And when one of those tigers offers Lily a deal–return what Halmoni stole in exchange for Halmoni’s health–Lily is tempted to accept. But deals with tigers are never what they seem! With the help of her sister and her new friend Ricky, Lily must find her voice… and the courage to face a tiger.

I didn’t know this book was actually classified under a children’s book when I picked it up. I suppose I should have known once I started reading a little bit of it, as it does revolve around quite a young girl. However, the story is very touching and has some really good elements, especially the Korean folktale ones, so I would still recommend this!

When You Trap A Tiger revolves around a young girl, Lily, whose grandmother (Halmoni in Korean) is sick and their whole family decides to visit her back in their home time. On the way, Lily spots something impossible: a tiger, on the road. Growing up, she had always been taught by Halmoni not to trust tigers, and now suddenly one appears in front of her, and even asks her for a deal. What will Lily do in the face of this new obstacle? Find out as she navigates her new life in the old town, and as she learns to become a part of a web of relations long sown.

The characters were great in this book. Of course, it is a children’s novel, so each character is fairly simple but they were consistent in their role and their growth. Lily’s own arc is essentially the whole story, and the author takes us through it well. The growth is gradual, and even hesitant, and moves along appropriately with the pace of the story.

The plot was fairly simple but had quite interesting elements. Something of a blend with fantasy, Lily meets a tiger that is the source of “conflict” in the story. This part of the story really gave me some Life of Pi vibes and I was certainly there for it. The presence of an ethereal tiger made me wonder whether if it was “real” or not, but then again, maybe that’s not the point of the story. This novel was really about storytelling, and I think its storytelling about storytelling was executed very well.

This whole book was based on some Korean folktales, and the author really did a good job retelling it in her own way, and weaving it into the story. The folktales told seemed both like a story being told, as well as being part of the story itself. The stories really came to life in the characters, even though they were being told by the characters! Honestly, the tale really made me think, and I feel like there were some deeper messages that I didn’t even get just reading it once. I’d say it’s one of those books.

Overall Recommendations

When you Trap a Tiger revolves around a Korean family moving to be with their grandmother (halmoni) as her health ails. On the way, their daughter sees a tiger on the road that seems to be following them. Apparently, their halmoni stole something from her, and the tiger wants it back in exchange for halmoni’s health. Will Lily help? What choice does she have? Find out in this retelling of a (slightly) reimagined Korean folktale! This is a fast-paced read aimed at younger readers, but it is touching and meaningful all the same.


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