Katie DiCamillo is a Newberry Award winning author with her work in The Tale of Despereaux. Because of Winn Dixie received the Newberry Honor. The Tiger Rising is a National Book Award winner. DiCamillo is a talented writer that offers us stories about loss, grief, abandonment, and hope.
The Tiger Rising is much like Because of Winn Dixie with the loss of a mother and the father uproots his child and moves to Lister, FL. Unlike the uplifting dog that was the catalyst for change, this story has a caged tiger. The tone is quite different between these two books.
Rob Horton is a twelve year old boy trying to mourn the loss of his mother, who just died from cancer. Rob was numb. “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.” Rob’s father hit him after the funeral because he was crying. Rob was determined never to cry again; not the bullies at his school, not the rash that covered his legs, not the void in his heart from the loss of his mother, and not the distant father who was wrapped up in his own grief.
Rob found a tiger deep in the woods behind the motel where he lived. He meets a new friend, Sistine Bailey. Sistine also has emotional issues because her parents recently separated. Her father was having an affair with his secretary. Together, they decide to free the caged tiger that belongs to the motel owner, Mr. Beauchamp.
Rob identifies with the caged tiger. His own emotions are trapped inside of himself. After he frees the tiger, he is initially pleased with his decision. In the end, it causes him to release all of the pent up anger and grief that had been buried deep down inside of him. He opens his suitcase and expresses all of his deepest emotions to his father. He too is finally free. This book is filled with symbolism.
The descriptive language used in this book is rich. DiCamillo uses economy poetry at times to avoid elaborate prose. She chooses the perfect words to touch an emotion with great depth. For example,
“You’re the liar,” said Sistine in a dark cold voice. Her face was so white that it seemed to glow before him. “And I hate you.” She said to him. “Everybody at school hates you, too. Even the teachers. You are a sissy. I hope I never see you again.”
She turned and walked away, and Rob stood and considered her words. He felt them on his skin like shards of broken glass. He was afraid to move. He was afraid of how deep they might go inside him.
DiCamillo has a unique way of writing about very difficult issues that are hard to cope with and accept. Grief, loss, and hope are the themes that seem to run through her books. One might think they are depressing, but they actually are written with a sense of hope and they are a form of inspiration to the reader.