Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Book Review - In the Tunnel by Julie Lee


In the Tunnel by Julie Lee is about a family’s journey to escape North Korea. Myungi-gi knows that war between North and South Korea is inevitable. Life in North Korea has become unbearable where most people live in fear that they might disappear if they do not follow their regime’s rules.

Myungi-gi’s family decide to make plans to escape as life is becoming unbearable and harder to survive. However, things take a turn for the worse when his father is abducted by the secret police when they were about to leave. Their plans to escape hinged on their father coming with them.  Myungi-gi feels shattered because he knows that his family needs to escape to survive but he is unable to leave his father behind. He feels guilty because deep down he believes his father’s abduction was his fault.

I have read the author’s previous book, Brother’s Keeper, and enjoyed it. This book can be read as a standalone but readers of the previous book would notice some recurring characters. The book is split between the past and the present, with both being narrated by Myungi-gi. 

In the past, he talks about his family’s journey to South Korea and the struggles and dangers they faced. In the current timeline, we find that Myungi-gi joined the war efforts and is stuck in an enemy tunnel.  It was interesting trying to figure out how the shy, gentle bookish Myungi-gi ends up fighting in the war when it seemed like that was the farthest thing from his mind.

I liked the previous novel but I didn’t really like this one. I had a hard time connecting with Myungi-gi, his younger sister, Yooemi, and his parents. I felt like there wasn’t much time spent on character development. I felt that this book was missing something that prevented me from liking it as much as the previous book. In the Tunnel is an emotional read about loss and survival but there is hope for the characters that they would be able to overcome the obstacles in their lives. I was surprised that the book is targeted for middle school readers as I felt that it was too graphic and despairing at times. Overall, I did enjoy the book and learned a lot about North Korea and the struggles that refugees face when trying to escape.

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