The Barnes & Noble Review
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the bullies have targeted, a girl named Sistine ("like the chapel"), who is as openly angry and pugilistic as Rob is withdrawn and passive.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)
Read an Excerpt
That morning, after he discovered the tiger, Rob went and stood under the Kentucky Star Motel sign and waited for the school bus just like it was any other day. The Kentucky Star sign was composed of a yellow neon star that rose and fell over a piece of blue neon in the shape of the state of Kentucky. Rob liked the sign; he harbored a dim but abiding notion that it would bring him good luck.
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.
It was early morning and it looked like it might rain; it had been raining every day for almost two weeks. The sky was gray and the air was thick and still. Fog was hugging the ground. To Rob, it seemed as if the tiger was some magic trick, rising out of the mist. He was so astounded at his discovery, so amazed, that he stood and stared. But only for a minute; he was afraid to look at the tiger for too long, afraid that the tiger would disappear. He stared, and then he turned and ran back into the woods, toward the Kentucky Star. And the whole way home, while his brain doubted what he had seen, his heart beat out the truth to him. Ti-ger. Ti-ger. Ti-ger.
That was what Rob thought about as he stood beneath the Kentucky Star sign and waited for the bus. The tiger. He did not think about the rash on his legs, the itchy red blisters that snaked their way into his shoes. His father said that it would be less likely to itch if he didn’t think about it.
And he did not think about his mother. He hadn’t thought about her since the morning of the funeral, the morning he couldn’t stop crying the great heaving sobs that made his chest and stomach hurt. His father, watching him, standing beside him, had started to cry, too.
They were both dressed up in suits that day; his father’s suit was too small. And when he slapped Rob to make him stop crying, he ripped a hole underneath the arm of his jacket.
"There ain’t no point in crying," his father had said afterward. "Crying ain’t going to bring her back."
It had been six months since that day, six months since he and his father had moved from Jacksonville to Lister, and Rob had not cried since, not once.
The final thing he did not think about that morning was getting onto the bus. He specifically did not think about Norton and Billy Threemonger waiting for him like chained and starved guard dogs, eager to attack.
Rob had a way of not-thinking about things. He imagined himself as a suitcase that was too full, like the one that he had packed when they left Jacksonville after the funeral. He made all his feelings go inside the suitcase; he stuffed them in tight and then sat on the suitcase and locked it shut. That was the way he not-thought about things. Sometimes it was hard to keep the suitcase shut. But now he had something to put on top of it. The tiger.
So as he waited for the bus under the Kentucky Star sign, and as the first drops of rain fell from the sullen sky, Rob imagined the tiger on top of his suitcase, blinking his golden eyes, sitting proud and strong, unaffected by all the not-thoughts inside straining to come out.
The Tiger Rising. Copyright (c) 2001 Kate DiCamillo. Candlewick Press, Inc. Cambridge, MA