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by Gillian Cross

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About the Author
Gillian Cross is the critically-acclaimed author of more than twenty-five books. She lives in England. See more details below


About the Author
Gillian Cross is the critically-acclaimed author of more than twenty-five books. She lives in England.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Impeccable plotting, a brisk narrative and complex characterizations make this latest from Cross (Wolf; Pictures in the Dark) a novel to read in a single sitting. Fiercely self-reliant Ashley is kept far too busy caring for her sick mother to bother with the more ordinary forms of teenage rebellion that abound in her seedy neighborhood. Her sole indulgence is graffiti--preferably in the most daring and difficult-to-reach locations possible. When she "tags" a store owned by an unpopular merchant and her browbeaten son, Ashley gains the notice of Eddie Beale, the charismatic gangster who--with the help of his fire-eating girlfriend and a crew of sidekicks--runs the area as if it were his private three-ring circus. Befriended, or so it seems, by this group of urban saltimbanques, Ashley's tightly wound existence begins to expand in new and unexpected ways. But Eddie is no Robin Hood, and beneath his ringmaster's dazzle lies a ruthless agenda. As Eddie's schemes fall into place, loner Ashley is forced to reach beyond her brittle independence and seek help from unexpected sources. The circus motif that runs throughout lends a shimmering touch of magical realism to this gritty urban tale. In the end, it is as much Ashley's emotional evolution as the more conventional elements of suspense that makes this story so engrossing. Ages 12-up. (Sept.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature - Children's Literature
Gillian Cross' Tightrope is filled with symbols that relate to the title. The main character is Ashley, a fourteen-year-old who walks a tightrope between caring for her disabled mother and juggling the rest of her life. Once a gymnast, Ashley finds release by inventing an alter ego named Cindy. Cindy sneaks out at night and balances on a tightrope while she indulges in her hidden passion of tagging, or filling high blank walls with graffiti bearing the name of her alter ego. At first, Ashley delights in the drama and the risk of being found out. But the mental tightrope Ashley enjoys stretches to the breaking point when she begins to receive anonymous, threatening letters written by someone who knows her true identity. Each chapter of this book ends with a short segment written by a resident of Ashley's neighborhood. These vignettes give clues about Ashley's stalker and a sense that much of the community lives in fear of the same person. Double meanings, suspense, and multiple perspectives lift this story beyond most. What distinguishes this book? The characters, they aren't merely embodiments of an issue and the plot isn't a one-liner. It is a complicated, character-driven, credible novel which offer a compelling read for anyone who has struggled with hiding fear or tried to understanding the conflicts and truths around them. It will appeal to all who long to find heroes, love, and hope. 1999, Holiday House, Ages 11 up, $16.95. Reviewer: Susie Wilde
Children's Literature - Betty Hicks
Some people think Ashley is much too responsible for a fourteen-year-old, but they don't know her secret. When she's not in school or caring for her disabled mother, Ashley paints the name Cindy on the walls of buildings--in the middle of the night--the higher up the better. When a chilling stalker threatens her secret and her security, she reluctantly appeals to Eddie, a ruthless egomaniac who helps anyone whose talents meet his bizarre expectations. The result is a thriller with so much tension; it's as taut as the high wire in the title. In fact, the entire story is filled with a number of resourceful parallels to high wire walking, circus acts, falling, and even to Cinderella. Ashley is perilously "balancing on a rope of twisted lies." Unless she adds more strands, she'll plummet. Part mystery, the novel's clues and events are unveiled creatively through multiple perspectives. The strong cast of major and minor characters who tell the tale will engage the reader's curiosity from beginning to end.
Kirkus Reviews
A twisty, eccentric novel of Machiavellian intrigue unravels slightly in the resolution, but fans of the author's previous works (Pictures in the Dark, 1996, etc.) are unlikely to mind. When Ashley begins to get threatening letters and phone calls from a mysterious stalker, she goes to a local fixer for help, only to find that she's only a pawn in his own machinations. She has always lived a duel life: by day, she's "every mother's dream daughter," faithfully attending school, then rushing home to do a myriad of household chores and care for her ailing mother; by night, she's a secret graffiti artist, scaling walls and roofs to "tag" surfaces with her spray-painted nom de plume. Her daring midnight adventures eventually catch the attention of Eddie Beale, a legendary tough with a zero tolerance for boredom and a coterie of colorful followers. Eddie "looks after" his friends, but demands slavish obedience in return. Ashley is flattered until she discovers that Eddie is using her in an elaborate scheme to get back at an innocent but uncooperative merchant. The premise is intriguing; Cross, using a variety of narrative voices and circus metaphors, spins the web so tautly that it's a bit disconcerting when Ashley destroys Eddie's universe so decisively. The page-turning plot will keep readers involved, though, despite a few undeveloped characters and the weak finish. (Fiction. 12-14)

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Harper Trophy Bks.
Age Range:
12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Ashley stopped at the traffic light on the Strip, looked across the road'and saw the best wall in the world.

And it had been there all her life.

Jabbing her elbow into Vikki's ribs, she raised her eyebrows and nodded across the street, toward Fat Annie's and the deli. Vikki followed where she was looking, and her eyebrows almost disappeared into her hair.

�Ash! You can't!�

�Sssh!� Ashley hissed. �Shut up.� They were on their way home from school, and there were other people all around them.

Vikki shut up, but her eyes were like marbles as the light changed and they crossed the Strip. She couldn't stop looking up at the wall.

It was a big, blank space, where Fat Annie's rose a whole story higher than the deli next door. The top of the side wall was exposed, and there was nothing on it at all. Not a mark. It was just waiting for someone to get up there and tag it. And all you'd have to do was climb onto the roof of the deli and walk along.

Twenty feet up in the air, in full view of the Strip. With nothing to stop you if you fell.�You can't!� Vikki whispered again when they reached the other side of the street. �Ash, you're mad. You'll kill yourself.�

�Be quiet!� Ashley growled, looking over her shoulder. She didn't want anyone else getting there first.

But it wasn't that easy to make Vikki give up. She grabbed Ashley's arm and shook it. �Listen to me—�

�There's nothing to say.� Stubbornly Ashley ignored her, heading sideways, into Fat Annie's. �Got to pick up some cheese.�

She had to push her way in. The place was full of kids scrabbling around the counter with chocolate andchewing gum, trying to barge in front of each other. Fat Annie's eyes were everywhere'on the door, flicking up at the security camera, and checking every coin she was offered'and as her fingers banged away at the till, she was bellowing at the kids cutting in line.

�Get back and wait your turn, Dean Fox! And you, Shorty! And watch your language, or I'll be around to talk to your mother.�

Ashley pushed through the crowd, heading for the cheese counter and trying to lose Vikki in the scrum. But Vikki was right on her heels, still going on about the wall.

�Ash, you've got to listen! You'd be crazy to—�

Ashley ignored her and began burrowing in the cheese display, hunting for a bit of cheap Cheddar. Vikki leaned closer, to whisper in her ear.

�You'll fall! You'll break your legs! And even if you don't, someone's going to catch you. It'll be a disaster.�

�I can handle it,� Ashley said. �Now be quiet. I don't want everyone to—�

Out of the corner of her eye she caught a movement. She glanced up and stopped dead. The Hyena was marching across the shop toward them, like the U.S. cavalry riding over the horizon.

That wasn't typical. Usually he was the opposite of his mother. Where Annie yelled and bullied the customers, the Hyena crept around, turning his soft, pasty face away from people's eyes. He slunk around the shop like a hyena with its tail between its legs—if a hyena can be going bald on top.

He wasn't slinking today, though. He was heading straight for Vikki, looking fierce and determined. But she hadn't realized yet. Ashley struggled not to laugh.

�You'd better leave me alone,� she murmured. �It looks as if I'm going to be rescued.� Then she fluttered her eyelids pathetically and whimpered, �Please leave me alone.�

At first Vikki thought it was a joke and she bared her teeth, pretending to snarl. Then she realized that Ashley was serious, and she whipped around.

By then the Hyena was just behind her. He looked at Ashley. �Is she bothering you?�

Vikki didn't give Ashley a chance to reply. She leaned back against the cheese display and looked at the Hyena with bold, bright eyes. �How could I bother anyone?� she drawled.

Then she hitched up her skirt—the last possible inch'and took a step toward him. The Hyena stepped backward, nervously, and she grinned and strolled past him, to the magazine shelves.

Standing on tiptoe, she reached down for a copy of Penthouse and began to flip through the pages.

The Hyena's pale face turned pink.

He was hesitating on the brink of saying something, but Annie got there first. She screamed at him, all the way across the shop.

�Geoffreeee! Don't let the children at the men's magazines!�

Immediately everyone in the line turned to look. Vikki grinned again and raised the magazine higher, and Ashley bent over the cheese, trying not to laugh.

The Hyena couldn't bring himself to look directly at Vikki, but he reached out a long arm to take the magazine away. His bony hands were shaking faintly, the way they always did. Vikki pretended not to notice. Whisking the magazine out of his reach, she turned her back and went on looking through it.

Fat Annie yelled at the top of her voice as she rang up a couple more Mars bars and three bags of chips. �Geoffreeee! Come on the till!�

Even from the far end of the shop, Ashley could feel the Hyena's relief. He turned away from Vikki and scuttled to the counter to take his mother's place, and Annie lumbered out, heading for the magazine rack.

Vikki wasn't stupid. By the time Annie got there, she was reading Smash Hits, and her skirt had dropped to its full length. But that didn't make any difference to Annie. She yanked the magazine away and jerked her head at the door.

�Outside, miss.�

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