ROVERANDOM

In 1925, the Tolkien family took a vacation at the beach, where four-year-old Michael lost his favorite object, a tiny toy dog. So to console him, father J.R.R. improvised the tale of a dog magically transformed into a toy. The story was rejected by Tolkien's publisher in 1937 and has lain neglected ever since. With good reason. It tells of young and impolite puppy Rover, who bites the wizard Artaxerxes's trousers; as a punishment, the wizard transforms him into a toy. Deposited in a toyshop, Rover is bought by a boy named Two, who loses the dog on a beach; but soon Rover meets Psamathos the sand-sorcerer. Psamathos sends Rover off on the back of Mew the gull to visit the Man-in-the-Moon. But the Man-in- the-Moon already has a moon-dog named Rover, so our Rover becomes Roverandom. Yessir, this is real edge-of-the-seat stuff. After various cutesy doings, Roverandom learns that Artaxerxes has taken a job under the sea, so he rides inside Uin the Right Whale to plead with Artaxerxes to change him back into a real dog. Which, after more fluffy bits—yes, there's a mer-dog named Rover—the wizard does, and Roverandom returns to Two. Even for Tolkien scholars, these are awfully thin bones to pick over.

Pub Date: April 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-395-89871-4

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1998

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THE TIGER RISING

Themes of freedom and responsibility twine between the lines of this short but heavy novel from the author of Because of Winn-Dixie (2000). Three months after his mother's death, Rob and his father are living in a small-town Florida motel, each nursing sharp, private pain. On the same day Rob has two astonishing encounters: first, he stumbles upon a caged tiger in the woods behind the motel; then he meets Sistine, a new classmate responding to her parents' breakup with ready fists and a big chip on her shoulder. About to burst with his secret, Rob confides in Sistine, who instantly declares that the tiger must be freed. As Rob quickly develops a yen for Sistine's company that gives her plenty of emotional leverage, and the keys to the cage almost literally drop into his hands, credible plotting plainly takes a back seat to character delineation here. And both struggle for visibility beneath a wagonload of symbol and metaphor: the real tiger (and the inevitable recitation of Blake's poem); the cage; Rob's dream of Sistine riding away on the beast's back; a mysterious skin condition on Rob's legs that develops after his mother's death; a series of wooden figurines that he whittles; a larger-than-life African-American housekeeper at the motel who dispenses wisdom with nearly every utterance; and the climax itself, which is signaled from the start. It's all so freighted with layers of significance that, like Lois Lowry's Gathering Blue (2000), Anne Mazer's Oxboy (1995), or, further back, Julia Cunningham's Dorp Dead (1965), it becomes more an exercise in analysis than a living, breathing story. Still, the tiger, "burning bright" with magnificent, feral presence, does make an arresting central image. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7636-0911-0

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2001

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TOUCHING SPIRIT BEAR

Troubled teen meets totemic catalyst in Mikaelsen’s (Petey, 1998, etc.) earnest tribute to Native American spirituality. Fifteen-year-old Cole is cocky, embittered, and eaten up by anger at his abusive parents. After repeated skirmishes with the law, he finally faces jail time when he viciously beats a classmate. Cole’s parole officer offers him an alternative—Circle Justice, an innovative justice program based on Native traditions. Sentenced to a year on an uninhabited Arctic island under the supervision of Edwin, a Tlingit elder, Cole provokes an attack from a titanic white “Spirit Bear” while attempting escape. Although permanently crippled by the near-death experience, he is somehow allowed yet another stint on the island. Through Edwin’s patient tutoring, Cole gradually masters his rage, but realizes that he needs to help his former victims to complete his own healing. Mikaelsen paints a realistic portrait of an unlikable young punk, and if Cole’s turnaround is dramatic, it is also convincingly painful and slow. Alas, the rest of the characters are cardboard caricatures: the brutal, drunk father, the compassionate, perceptive parole officer, and the stoic and cryptic Native mentor. Much of the plot stretches credulity, from Cole’s survival to his repeated chances at rehabilitation to his victim being permitted to share his exile. Nonetheless, teens drawn by the brutality of Cole’s adventures, and piqued by Mikaelsen’s rather muscular mysticism, might absorb valuable lessons on anger management and personal responsibility. As melodramatic and well-meaning as the teens it targets. (Fiction. YA)

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2001

ISBN: 0-380-97744-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2001

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