It’s hard to believe that only a few months ago I’d never read Kate DiCamillo. Shameful, I know. Where my reading was life once bereft and shallow, it is now filled with the works of this wonderfully inventive writer. And ‘Tiger Rising’ is as good as it gets; a punchy, powerful book that transcends any notion of a children’s book being something light or fluffy or, for that matter, fitting only for children.
Set in deepest Florida, the story follows Rob Horton – still grieving for his mother, suffering at the hands of the the school bullies, living in poverty and afflicted with a chronic skin condition, young Rob has it tough. His grief is locked deep inside, packed down in a metaphorical suitcase, never opened for fear of what would burst forth. Then, everything changes.
In the woods, he finds a tiger – caged and trapped, like Rob and his feelings – and, later, he is entrusted with the key to the tiger’s cage. In parallel, he finds friendship with Sistine, the new girl at school. She’s a misfit, an outsider who loathes living in Florida – her raw emotion, the fights and the scraps, draw Rob towards her and in doing so, Rob finds someone he can trust, someone who understands him. Together, Rob and Sistine go to the woods to see the tiger…
DiCamillo’s writing is beautiful; her language is simple, unfussy. Every word is chosen with care; there is no waste or excess. It’s barely over 100 pages long- but full of rich, complex characters and emotional depth. She writes about grief with sensitivity and insight; there is no condescension or flippancy here – there is a rawness which feels real, painfully so at times.
A great book. If Kate DiCamillo hasn’t entered your life yet – let her in.