SECRET HEART by David Almond


Age Range: 12 - 15
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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)

Pub Date: Oct. 8th, 2002
ISBN: 0-385-72947-2
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Delacorte
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2002


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