Kate DiCamillo follows up her Newbery Honor-winning novel, Because of Winn-Dixie, with an emotionally rich and poignant tale of one boy's struggle to find himself in a confusing and harsh world. The Tiger Rising is about the heartbreak of loss, the hope of new beginnings, and the unexpected events that often color our lives.
Twelve-year-old Rob Horton's life has been thoroughly uprooted: Following his mother's recent death, his father has moved them to a rundown motel in northern Florida. Faced with a grief he doesn't understand and his father's refusal to talk about it, Rob stumbles through his new life like an automaton. At school he is constantly bullied because of his newcomer status and an inexplicable leg rash he's had since his mother's death. The only bright light in Rob's day is another new student the bullies have targeted, a girl named Sistine ("like the chapel"), who is as openly angry and pugilistic as Rob is withdrawn and passive. Drawn together by their shared outsider status and a common emotional void (Sistine's parents have divorced) the two quickly become friends.
Even when Rob is suspended from school, he continues to see Sistine each day when she stops by to deliver his homework. Their bond is strengthened when he shares with her a startling discovery -- a live tiger trapped inside a cage in the woods behind the motel where he lives. They immediately start scheming up ways to help the creature escape and eventually, fate provides them with the perfect means to do so. But they fail to weigh all the consequences of their actions, a fact that becomes tragically clear within minutes of the tiger's release. Yet there is triumph in the outcome as well, for it leads to an epiphany of sorts for both Rob and his father, setting Rob at long last on the road toward emotional healing.
At just over 100 pages, The Tiger Rising is a quick read, despite its apparently languid pace. But don't let the story's slimness fool you -- DiCamillo packs a powerful punch and plenty of satisfaction into those few pages, filling each one with vivid imagery, poetic prose, and high emotional impact. (Beth Amos)