The story of a boy who discovers that some things can't stay locked up forever.
"Crying ain't going to bring her back," he says. So Rob fills a suitcase in his mind with all his forbidden thoughts - the rash on his legs, the bullies at school - and keeps it tight shut. But when he finds a caged tiger deep in the woods, his whole life begins to change.
That same day he meets Sistine Bailey, another outsider who's bullied at school. She says they must set the tiger free - and when Rob imagines the tiger rising out of its cage, his suitcase begins to open...
Reviewed by Ellie Labbett
The Tiger Rising is a classic triumph from Kate DiCamillo. Six months have passed since Rob Horton’s mother passed away. Memories of her sit deep in a suitcase that stays tightly locked, alongside the hurt from his father and bullies at school. But one day, Rob discovers a caged tiger deep in the woods behind the Kentucky Star Motel. With a sudden rush of hope, Rob wonders whether it could possibly be real. In that same day, a new girl named Sistine Bailey walks onto the school bus. Her fiery temperament and refusal to ignore her feelings causes chaos at school and sparks the beginning of unlikely friendship. But could Rob possibly let Sistine in on his secret in the woods, and what might become of the tiger? The Tiger Rising is a delicate novella of learning and growth, that leaves two characters forever changed.
The narrative centres around connection, which is sown like seeds and nurtures Rob through a period of detachment from his feelings. DiCamillo invites readers to see the beauty of human connection and how it can be a route towards healing, change and living a more fulfilled life. Flickers of friendship glow amidst Rob’s social exclusion at school and detachment from his father, eventually providing the security to relinquish control of his feelings. This is seen in the solace that he finds in Willie May, a maternal figure who offers him wisdom, sincerity and perhaps sees Rob more clearly than he can see himself. Finding companionship with the irrepressible Sistine Bailey supports Rob to step away from a numb existence and into a world of feeling despite fear. It is by letting one another in that these two characters are able to share and act upon something greater than themselves, that goes beyond their own experiences in life.
I will always wonder at how DiCamillo conjures such beautiful, moving narratives that peel off the page and resonate so deeply. Her stories have a respect for the reader, written with truth and the trust that we will care for her characters as much as she does. She leaves no time to cushion the lows of life and provides the space for readers to see characters with different experiences of loss. This includes loss of freedom, family and life as it once was. By seeing these experiences within stories, children are left better prepared for a world where they too may have to navigate similar circumstances.
Written across just under 130 pages, it is one of DiCamillo’s shortest novels and one that ends with hope and love. It is a heartfelt story that will move readers in the upper junior years, and would pair perfectly with Felix After The Rain by Dunja Jogan when discussing the importance of releasing our emotions. The Tiger Rising would be a welcome recommendation to children that may be experiencing a period of emotional upheaval or change, and DiCamillo leaves us with the promise of light after darkness.
You may also be interested in the review of Louisiana’s Way Home, also by Kate DiCamillo.