Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Middle-Grade Review: The Tiger Rising

As I mentioned last week in my review of The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, I love Kate DiCamillo’s writing; her prose is beautifully written and her characters wonderfully real.  The Tiger Rising, a slim novel we just finished reading aloud, is no exception.

The Tiger Rising opens with twelve-year old Rob waiting for his school bus and thinking about his recent discovery:

Finding the tiger had been luck, he knew that.  He had been out in the woods behind the Kentucky Star Motel, way out in the woods, not really looking for anything, just wandering, hoping that maybe he would get lost or get eaten by a bear and not have to go to school ever again.  That’s when he saw the old Beauchamp gas station building, all boarded up and tumbling down; next to it, there was a cage, and inside the cage, unbelievably, there was a tiger – a real-life, very large tiger pacing back and forth.  He was orange and gold and so bright, it was like staring at the sun itself, angry and trapped in a cage.

Rob’s secret buoys him as he boards the school bus and endures yet another morning of teasing and bullying.  But something else is different today.  A new girl, Sistine, gets on the bus.  She’s not like anyone Rob has ever seen or heard before, and he feels an immediate sense of connection with her:

Nobody wore pink lacy dresses to school.  Nobody.  Even Rob knew that.  He held his breath as he watched the girl walk down the aisle of the bus.  Here was somebody even stranger than he was.  He was sure.

Rob’s life is very difficult right now.  His mother recently died, and he and his father are both lost without her and unable to comfort each other.  They’re living in a run-down motel where Rob’s father works as a maintenance man, and Rob has a terrible case of what is probably eczema that makes him an outcast at school.  But now things are different for Rob; he’s not alone anymore.  Now he has a secret tiger in the woods and a new friend.

Like many of DiCamillo’s award-winning novels (this one was a National Book Award Finalist), The Tiger Rising tells its simple yet poignant story with lyrical style that pulls you in so you feel like its characters are your friends.  All four of us loved this novel and couldn’t wait to find out what happened next.  As in real life, everything does not turn out perfectly, but there is hope and encouragement in its satisfying conclusion.  I highly recommend this tender little novel, either for kids to read on their own or as a read-aloud.

121 pages, Candlewick Press

 Accelerated Reader:  Level 4.0, 3 points.

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