Secret Heart

Secret Heart

5.0 1
by David Almond

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Joe Maloney is out of place in this world. His mother wants him to be a man, and he can’t be that yet. His only friend, Stanny Mole, wants to teach him how to kill, and Joe can’t learn that. Joe’s mind is always somewhere else: on the weird creatures he sees in the distant sky, the songs he hears in the air around him, the vibrations of life he…  See more details below


Joe Maloney is out of place in this world. His mother wants him to be a man, and he can’t be that yet. His only friend, Stanny Mole, wants to teach him how to kill, and Joe can’t learn that. Joe’s mind is always somewhere else: on the weird creatures he sees in the distant sky, the songs he hears in the air around him, the vibrations of life he feels everywhere. Everybody laughs at Joe Maloney.

And then a tattered circus comes to town, and a tiger comes for him. It leads him out into the night, and nothing in Joe Maloney’s world is ever the same again.

The transformative power of imagination and beauty flows through this story of a boy who walks where others wouldn’t dare to go, a boy with the heart of a tiger, an unlikely hero who knows that sometimes the most important things are the most mysterious.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
With a reading as nimble and sure as cat feet, British actor Malcolm seems at home in the strange, exotic world of Almond's latest fantasy. Young Joe Maloney has never felt comfortable in his own skin. He sees creatures and hears voices that most people do not. Tougher still, kids ridicule Joe for his stammer and his odd, introspective ways. But when a tattered, run-down circus comes to Joe's village, he meets a crew of people who truly understand him. Corinne, a trapeze artist Joe's age, just may be his soulmate. And before the circus packs up its tent to leave, Joe finally finds a way to connect to the life force (embodied as a tiger) that he feels in his "secret heart." Fans of Almond's books Kit's Wilderness and Skellig will be the most willing to follow Malcolm's quick yet steady voice through this offbeat and symbol-rich story; others may find the tale's action a bit slow going. Throughout, Malcolm's soft-spoken portrayal of Joe is an excellent fit. Simultaneous release with the Delacorte hardcover. Ages 10-up. (Oct.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Gr 6-10-Stuttering and often at a loss for words, Joe Maloney was born otherworldly, and his mother is his only advocate in his small English village. Peers pay him little heed other than to castigate him; teachers disparage his very presence. Even his mother says, "You're such a funny'n- Something different in your blood or something." Joe is confronted with myriad problems that include a friendship with Stanny Mole, who admonishes him to become a man, to go out and kill with him and Joff, a snake-tattooed miscreant-of-a-man. Dreaming his youth away, Joe skips school, heading for the forest at the call of a roaming tiger. He is befriended by Corinne, a Gypsy girl and young trapeze artist from a newly arrived, worn-out circus. She introduces him to capricious carnival types who gently encourage him to find his own way, to discover the heart of the tiger that lies dormant within him. The fine line between reality and fantasy is always neatly navigated yet left deliciously ethereal. Readers are forever left to wonder where one leaves off and the other begins. In some ways, the chimerical flavor of Almond's previous books is compromised here by a bit more heavy-handedness. Though not as mysterious as his other titles, this book has thought-provoking allegory that will engage older readers in more and more layers of meaning.-Daniel L. Darigan, West Chester University, PA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
From a master of the symbolism of darkness as it stands in opposition to light and hope: the opaque story of an unusual boy named Joe and a cast of eccentric and unsavory characters. Joe, who feels " . . . the lark singing inside him and the tiger prowling inside him," is a complex, enigmatic character. While he is sensitive and intelligent inside, he is outwardly troubled, awkward, stammering, and dreamily vague. Townsfolk, including his peers, psychiatrists, social workers, teachers, and policemen consistently misunderstand and sometimes victimize him. When a down-at-the-heels circus arrives in town for its last performances before folding, this lonely outsider is drawn to the circus folk and they to him. They are looking for a hero who has the heart of a tiger to carry the skin of the circus's last tiger into the forest. A blind diviner uses her odd rituals to foretell that Joe will be that hero. So does young Corinna, a circus flyer who speaks in esoterica and believes Joe to be her twin from another life. The two carry the tiger skin into the night forest and succeed in driving away a swaggering thug who specializes in toughening up boys with his own ritual of cruel blood sport. The story ends with a metaphorical reconciliation as Joe's constant, devoted mother invites the shunned circus folk to a party in her garden, where they delight neighborhood children. The reader senses that Joe's secret heart may have found a "home." Beautifully written, this nonetheless is a largely metaphysical tale of stalker versus prey (real and surreal, animal and human), featuring mainly symbolic characters with whom readers may not connect and about whom they may not care. (Fiction. 12-15)

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Product Details

Random House Children's Books
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2 MB
Age Range:
12 Years

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All that night, Joe Maloney sweated, twisted and turned. He dreamed that engines roared and lights blazed. Men yelled, children screamed, dogs yelped. Metal hammered on metal. He dreamed that the surface of the earth was lifted and hung from great hooks in the sky. Beneath it, shapeless beasts danced in the dark. Then he lay dead still. Easy breath, easy heart. He smelt sawdust, canvas, animal sweat, animal dung. Gentle noises, creakings and flappings. He felt something fingering his skull, felt someone whispering his name. He was about to wake up in some new place.

"Joe!" yelled his mum. "Joseph!"

He opened his eyes: just his bedroom, pale sunlight filtering through thin curtains, childhood drawings taped to the walls, his clothes in a heap on the floor. He sniffed the air, trying to smell the tiger again.

"Joe!" she called. "Come on, son, will you?"

He slithered from the tangled bed, picked up his clothes and dressed himself. He dragged on his heavy boots. He sniffed, listened, narrowed his eyes.


In the bathroom, he splashed water onto himself, then leaned close to the mirror, inspected his pale face, his tangled hair, his one green eye, his one brown eye. He touched his skin. He hadn't changed. He was still just Joe Maloney.


He went down into the kitchen. She was at the table, pouring orange juice. She shook her head and clicked her tongue. She tugged his shirt square on his shoulders. She fastened the laces of his boots. "Joe Maloney. What you like?"

He grinned.

"L-like me," he said.

She cuffed him gently on the shoulder.

"Like you. And you're going to need me to get you up and get you dressed all your life?"

He grinned again.


He buttered some toast and chewed it. She smiled, and smoothed his hair with her fingers and palms.

"I had a d-dream," Joe said.

"Now there's a change."

"There was . . ."

She shook her head, but she leaned toward him, about to listen.

"There was . . . ?" she said.

Joe rubbed his eyes and blinked. He looked out of the window and gasped. The summit of a blue tent stood high over the rooftops at the village's edge.

"What's that?"


"L-look, Mum."

He jabbed the air. A blue tent, a blue paler than the morning sky. A great blue tent that trembled slightly in the morning breeze.

"What?" she said.

"There, look, Mum."

She narrowed her eyes and peered.

"Tent," he said. "A tent."

"Oh . . . Aye. Now where might that come from?"

They gazed at it together, the slope of blue rising from the dusty red rooftops.

"Fancy that," she said. "A circus or something, eh? Last time a circus came to Helmouth was in . . ." She shrugged. "Before our time, I reckon."

Joe shoved a piece of toast into his mouth. She put her arm around him as he prepared to go out.

"Now, then, Joseph Maloney," she said.

He lowered his eyes, then turned them to her.

"You know what I'm going to say, don't you?"

"Yes, Mum."

"You make sure you get into school today. OK?"

"OK, Mum."

She kissed him.

"Don't want that rotten Wag Man coming round again, do I?"

"No, Mum."

"You. What a lad. Sometimes wonder what I brought into the world. How can a lad be so lovely and so much trouble? Can you answer me that?"

"No, Mum."

"No, Mum. Come on, then, give us a kiss."

She took him to the door, watched him walk through the garden to the front gate. She raised her finger as he turned to wave. "Be sure, now," she said.

"Yes, Mum," he said, then hurried toward the Cut.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Meet the Author

David Almond grew up in a large family in northeastern England and says, “The place and the people have given me many of my stories.” He worked as a postman, a brush salesman, an editor, and a teacher, but began to write seriously after he finished college. His first novel for children, Skellig, was a Michael L. Printz Honor Book and an ALA Notable Book and appeared on many best book of the year lists. His second novel, Kit’s Wilderness, won the Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in literature for young adults. David Almond lives in Newcastle, England, with his partner and their daughter.

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Secret Heart 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is our territory now. I am Silentstar. Im leader of Secretclan. We r looking for a med cat abd a mate for our deputy secretheart
Guest More than 1 year ago
The surreal province, David Almond has created in his fifth book, Secret Heart, is dark, haunting and reminiscent of the stylistic and contextual elements of English classics produced by the likes of C. S. Lewis and even Kipling. Simple, stuttering, dreamy Joe Maloney is the prototypical, ostracized young boy who doesn¿t fit in. He has phenomenal powers, of imagination and observation, bordering upon the supernatural. The progression of the first half of the plot is rather slow but steady. The reader travels to the town of Helmouth in the slums of England, where `nothing happened. In helmouth, everything came to just nothing.¿ Adding to this gloomy setting are the despicable occupants of this town who simply cannot allow someone like Joe to live peacefully. The novel explores some wonderful themes pertaining to self knowledge, gender expectations, and the reconceptualization of the traditional hero. Furthermore, it is undoubtedly a great work of imagistic wealth, containing aspects of stream of consciousness. The dynamics of a parent-child relationship are also subtly addressed through Joe¿s `Mum¿s¿ willingness to give him space and credit to develop and grow, even though he is, conventionally speaking, a special child. Nonetheless, there are certain disturbing elements in Almond¿s work as well. While it may not appear so in a first reading of the text, on closer reading, the novel appears to be rather didactic. For instance, it brings to fore the time long battle between man and nature, in which nature symbolizes goodness, renewal, and rebirth while man is emblematic of meaningless destruction and hate. There is no middle path offered as one can either be one or the other as is depicted in Joe¿s ability to blend into the natural world. The novel also appears to negate, organized institutions symbolized by Joe¿s aversion to school, the psychologists, and social workers who desecrate the sanctity of his domestic and mental privacy. Whether that¿s entirely justified is for the reader to decide. Moreover, the fact that Joe chooses `the wilderness, the larks, the rats and rabbits and stoats. And he accepted the loneliness that went with this choice,¿ raises the question whether the novel is promoting a life of escapism, exile, and self-isolation for those who think differently. It can also be perceived as concluding that only people at odds with conventional society, like the circus people and Joe, are truly kindred souls with noble missions. There are certain jarring discrepancies in the plot as well. For instance, while it seems to propagate the respect of nature there is morbid sadism involved in the Hackenschmidt¿s treatment of the poor Andulican goats that are transformed into unicorns through a cruel process. Although Almond¿s novel is classified as children¿s literature, it is redolent with sophisticated literary and philosophical context like naturalism and reincarnation granting it an edge over other children¿s literature that undermines the reader¿s ability to grapple with complicated ideologies. All in all, keeping mind Almond¿s admirable record of award-winning children¿s literature, the Secret Heart is highly recommended reading. The only pre-requisite is that it be approached with an intelligent and critical approach so that none of the true wealth contained in it is lost.
Guest More than 1 year ago
i will admit that i did take me a while to get interested in this book. i would try reading it, only to get distracted and stop and leave it for awhile. but recently i picked it up again and i must say i enjoyed it this time. i stayed with the book and after reading it all i can say about it is.. well, 'wow'. this book is pretty powerful and brings you to see things a little clearer about the world. i think the reason it took me so long to read it is because i wouldn't have understood it at those earlier times. i dont think a whole lot of people will like this book, and i dont expect them to, but i really like this book and see it as something to experience. try it out... if you cant grasp it, wait a while, then try again.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This mystical, slow moving novel leaves too many loose ends and has too little action. As a school librarian, I feel terrible that I spent money on a book I won't recommend. This work may find an appreciative readership among the same crowd of adults who enjoyed Jonathan Livingston Seagull, but I can't imagine most youngsters sustaining interest.