When You Trap a Tiger - 2021 Newbery Medal Winner
It may have been 5 years ago that I started working on my first middle grade novel. I was passionate about my idea. It was going to be an ode to my grandmother who had just passed away, a love letter to my childhood, and all the other goodness wrapped up in the middle. This summer I started draft number 5 of the story. It is so much work but good work. I found myself stuck during draft 5 so I decided to pause for a bit and work on other drafts.
A couple of weeks ago I checked out this book, When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller. This wasn't even on my radar until it won the Newbery in January and for that I am very sorry. When You Trap a Tiger is an ode to a grandmother, a love letter to childhood, and all the other goodness wrapped up in the middle. About 1/3 of the way through the book I put it down, shocked. This was the book I've been trying to write. She captured the things that have been missing from my book and I was both gobsmacked and grateful. At least someone knew how to tell this story.
I continued reading because I've never read a story like this, because it was my story, and because it was also so different from my story. Lily, the main character, is biracial. When she, her sister, and her mom, move back to the Pacific Northwest to live with her Korean grandmother, she starts seeing a tiger. Is it real? Is it the same tiger from stories her grandmother told her as a child? As her family starts to adjust, her grandmother's health fades. Lily is in a race to find a way to help her grandmother and trap a tiger.
Tae Keller nailed the ending. I cried hard, so hard. Then I read her notes. This woman researched the hell out of this book. That's when I realized the level of work I still need to do on my own book. Keller's book won, and is an exceptional piece of writing and storytelling, because she put the work in it to make it that way.
I recently heard that the best advice for a writer is the same as a dog. "Sit. Stay." So, I'll be finding my way to my seat as often as I can. And you? You should pick up this book and read it.