In the Tunnel by Julie Lee

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In the Tunnel takes readers into the savagery and family upheaval of the Korean War .

The post In the Tunnel by Julie Lee appeared first on Redeemed Reader.

In the Tunnel takes readers into the savagery and family upheaval of the Korean War .

In the Tunnel by Julie Lee. Holiday House, 2023, 304 pages.

In the Tunnel

Reading Level: Teen, ages 12-15

Recommended for: ages 13-18

A War-Torn Country

The story opens with a terrified soldier in the heat of battle. As his unit falls back he stumbles into a tunnel—temporary refuge from the flying lead. But when the opening caves, his refuge becomes a trap.

Myung-gi was 9 years old when the Japanese retreated from Korea. But almost immediately the Russian Red Army swept in and took over. Resistance sprang up in the southern peninsula, but the communists were firmly in control of the North. Over the next few years the situation went from bad to worse, until the worst happened: Myung-gi’s father, the local school principal, was arrested and taken away: no reason given, no destination known.

Myung-gi, now the man of the family, must decide what to do. A quiet, intellectual boy who would rather bury himself in books than face a real-life challenge feels ill-equipped for his new role, especially since he blames himself for his father’s arrest. Yet as life in his village becomes more perilous, the wisest course of action is to head south. That’s what Apha (father) himself directed: if they were ever separated, the family must find a way to reunite in Busan, south of the river. Getting to Busan is fraught with danger—there’s a war on. And what if they can’t find Apha when they get there?

A Sad Anniversary

Myung-gi is a close friend to Sora Pak, whose family also fled the north in the companion novel Brother’s Keeper. As an exposition into the Korean War, which began 70 years ago and ended in a stalemate that resonates today, both books are valuable and well-written. The flashbacks leading up to Myung-gi’s trial in the tunnel may be confusing at first, but effective, and the tunnel sequences vividly show both the terror and the monotony of war. Myung-gi is a character I found hard to like: both vacillating and stubborn, intellectual and headstrong to the point of foolishness. But his love for his father is genuine and Apha is an inspiring figure. The quotes from Korean and Western classic literature which begin each chapter find some relevance to his experience, but we don’t see him grow in maturity. Nor does his father’s Christian faith appear to provide much ballast for the son.


  • The realities of escape through a war zone, though sensitively portrayed, may be too much for some readers (e.g., a rape is suggested but not shown).

Overall Rating: 3.75.

  • Worldview/moral value: 3.5
  • Artistic/literary value: 4.5

Read more about our ratings here.

Also at Redeemed Reader:

  • Review: Devotion, recently made into a movie, is the true story of the biracial friendship between two Air Force pilots serving in the Korean War.

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The post In the Tunnel by Julie Lee appeared first on Redeemed Reader.

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