Thursday, July 21, 2022

When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller

Title: When You Trap a Tiger
Author: Tae Keller
Publication: Random House, hardcover, 2020
Genre: Middle-grade fiction
Setting: Washington state
Description: Lily and her older sister Sam have moved to Washington with their mother to be near their Korean grandmother who is very ill. The girls do not immediately understand why their mother decided to move so unexpectedly and they have not fully recovered from their father’s death in a car accident several years earlier, so the news is very upsetting. Soon after they arrive, a magical tiger appears that only Lily can see and she tries to barter with it for her grandmother’s health. It takes courage for Lily to step out of her usual observer role to interact with the tiger and also to make friends with the people in her Halmoni’s neighborhood – to recognize that she is “a girl who sees invisible things, but [is] not invisible.”

My Impression: This is a charming story about sisters who love their Korean grandmother but are sometimes embarrassed by her quirks. Their Halmoni is a wonderful storyteller and all her Korean folktales begin, “Long, long ago, when tiger walked like man . . . “ The story Lily likes best is a variation on Red Riding Hood about two sisters and a tiger.

There is some beautiful writing in this book:
It’s hard to breathe. I know now: The moment when everything really falls apart – it’s not during the big explosion. It’s in the quiet right after. And the feeling is not a shattering. Not quite.

It’s more of a crumbling. Like I’m still trying to hold my heart together, but the tighter I squeeze, the faster it breaks apart.

Crumble, crumble, until there’s nothing but tiny pieces, scraps of feeling that I can’t put back together.
Somehow I missed this book winning the 2021 Newbery Medal but I can see it was a good choice although I am not a fan of magical realism so would not have chosen it myself.  But then I started to wonder like Carrie Bradshaw. . .
What is magical realism?

In short, “magical realism” describes a work of fiction where fantasy slips into everyday life. However, the focus isn’t on the fantastical elements of the story, so much as on what those elements mean for the characters. Fantasy often acts as an extended metaphor, externalizing some sort of internal conflict or moral quandary in the protagonist’s life.
Glatch, S. (2021, January 27). What is Magical Realism?

I suppose I dislike magical realism because I prefer actual fantasy or realistic fiction, not something in the middle. I like The Wizard of Oz book but find the movie annoying because it concludes that Oz was just a dream. Here, Lily knows the tiger isn’t real but confronting it causes her, usually the quiet younger sister in Sam’s shadow, not to be invisible anymore. The story is full of well-drawn characters in addition to the beloved grandmother: the girls’ worried mother; Lily’s awkward new friend, Ricky; Jensen a kindhearted older girl who works at the library; and even Joe, the grumpy librarian. The author also portrays the relationship between the sisters very well – they have grown apart as Sam has become an impatient teen but Lily needs her big sister so it is good to see them begin to understand each other. One weakness of the story was that it seemed very predictable. I think the average 10-year-old would have seen the plot signposts.
This was the July book for the de Grummond Book Group. And I have just submitted my final paper for my MLIS degree so I could read with a clear conscience (admittedly, I never have trouble reading with a guilty conscience).

Source: Library


Test said...

Hooray! Final paper! That's such a great feeling. I don't have any doubts about how you will do on it.

Lex @ Lexlingua said...

I had seen this book on Newbery lists before but didn't realize it had a Korean folklore touch. As for magical realism, one author whose work I really like is Jorge Luis Borges. I loved his book Labyrinths, which I suppose tries to show how underneath all the modern trappings, if you look closely, there are several mysterious things that work like magic. Not sure if you've tried his work or liked it, but thought I'd add a rec here!

TracyK said...

I agree with you on magical realism. I haven't read many books with that element though. This book does sound good, though.

Congratulations on finishing that final paper for your MSIS degree. That must be a relief. I don't ever feel guilty about reading either.