Julie’s follow-up to My Brother’s Keeper is In the Tunnel which hits shelves May 30! In the Tunnel has already received starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist and is a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection. My Brother’s Keeper was the recipient of 4 starred reviews, also a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection, a Freeman Book Award winner, a Jane Addams Children’s Book Award finalist, an ALA Rise selection, an ALA Notable Children’s Book, a Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year (Outstanding Merit), and a Kirkus Best Middle Grade Book of 2020.
1. If you could travel back in time, (assuming there’d be no risk to yourself or changing the course of history) where and when and why would you go?
I would want to travel back to August 15, 1945—the day Korea was liberated after 45 years of Japanese occupation—and spend the afternoon with my mother as a young girl in northern Korea. This is also the day that Myung-gi’s story in In the Tunnel first begins. Although it was a short-lived celebration (the Soviets marched in soon afterward to occupy the north), I would want to get to know my mother and her family and friends during this joyful period before the Korean War, before she and others would have to face such hardship. While I was there, I would want to see her childhood home and the beautiful landscape of a closed nation.
2. Your book is set during the Korean War. What fascinates you most about this time period?
Both Brother’s Keeper and its companion novel, In the Tunnel, are set during the Korean War. What fascinates me about this time period is the ordinary person’s courage and resilience in the face of war. Nearly every Korean has such stories within their own families. Yet we rarely hear about them.
3. What elements of this time period are still with us today?
I wish I could point to only the good things that still persist like human acts of kindness and courage. But the reality is that the crises of this historical period are ongoing. North Korea’s authoritarian government still exists today. Technically, the war between North and South Korea never ended; they are still officially at war. There is also still a refugee crisis in many places around the world. And last, but not least, the world today feels eerily similar to the Cold War era.
4. I remember being told in a high school history class (in the states) that the Korean War is also known as “the forgotten war.” What do you want readers to know about this moment in history?
I want readers to know that forgetting history isn’t just about overlooking a few dates and places; it’s about erasing entire groups of people. And by erasing them, we are leaving a hole in our understanding of ourselves. For my mother and her generation, the Korean War, was not forgotten. It was one of the most significant events of their lives.
As a result of this conflict, millions of people died and millions more ended up permanently separated from an immediate family member across the North-South Korean border. Similar tragedies are still taking place all around the world today.
5. Is there an historical tidbit that didn’t make it in the book, but is super interesting?
During the Soviet occupation, some people had developed a warning system to alert others of Soviet soldiers entering their neighborhood. The first house would make a loud noise by repeatedly hitting a can with a stick, followed by the next house, and the next, until the warning signal was transmitted throughout the entire neighborhood. It was such a simple but effective strategy in protecting one another. This historical tidbit came from my Uncle Luke’s memoir, Beyond the Battleline: The Korean War and my Life. Like Myung-gi, he lived in northern Korea and later joined the South Korean military as a means of somehow using intelligence to gain information on an abducted parent.
6. What’s your favorite historical fiction (any age!)
This is perhaps the hardest question! I have so many favorites, but if I must choose, I pick The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. It is such a beautiful, creative, and lyrical story. It makes me cry every time.
7. What are you working on right now?
My WIP keeps changing, so it’s hard to say right now. But I am interested in writing a story set in America this time.