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The Boy With the Tiger’s Heart by Linda Coggin review

untitled (2)The Boy With the Tiger’s Heart

Linda Coggin

Hot Key Books, September 2014

Raised by dogs and feared by humans, Nona must run from the authorities with the only people she can trust: a frightened boy called Caius, a mixed-up boy called Jay – and a bear by the name of Abel Dancer.  A haunting and unforgettable modern fable about bravery, untamed places, and what it is that makes us human.

This is a beguiling tale that reminded me of some of the animal stories that I read and loved as a child. It really evoked those childhood feelings of awe and respect for the wild and the sense of horror at the idea of animals being robbed of their freedom, or worse, hunted to extinction.

It is set in a world where people have been taught to fear the wild, and all animals have either been killed in the Great Cull or are kept in the circus. Except, of course, in The Edge, an untamed land beyond the Green Wall where no human ever ventures. When the story begins, our main character doesn’t even have a name. Raised by dogs in the wild, Nona (the name she claims for herself later in the story) has been adopted by scientist Thomas Bailey, who keeps a menagerie of animals on his land. Driven by grief at the loss of his wife and son, he turns his gun on himself. The Authorities are quick to point the finger at Nona, and so she must flee, accompanied by Abel Dancer the bear, one of the only animals to escape being killed by the Authorities in the aftermath of Thomas Bailey’s suicide. She soon meets Caius, and a boy with strangely tiger-like eyes called Jay who later turns out to be Thomas Bailey’s not-quite-human son. The rest of the story follows Nona and her strange group of friends as they go on the run from Bolverk, the chief of police tasked with bringing Nona in and charging her with the murder of Thomas Bailey.

The first place that Jay leads them to on their journey of evasion is the circus in Dissville. I like the use of the circus as a setting in books but I also always have mixed feelings about them – they are at once magical but somehow sinister places. This one is particularly unpleasant, with pitiful animals kept in cages to be poked at with sticks and a grotesque ‘Safari’ attraction where you can shoot at stuffed dead animals that pop up unexpectedly, staring with their glassy dead eyes. Later on in the book, I loved the way the author used the wild landscape, pitting the characters against the power of the rushing, half-frozen river.

I thought the characters were all really strong in this book. Nona is wild and fierce and has a real connection with nature. She believes passionately in every living thing’s right to freedom and dignity. Her protectiveness towards Abel Dancer, who is pretty clueless when it comes to ‘being a bear’ after his years in captivity, is truly heart-warming. I was also fascinated by Jay and his struggle to define who he is. Pieced back together by his father after an horrific accident, he may be part animal but he has more humanity than the mindless people of Dissville who keep their children on leads. Then there is Bolverk – it’s been a while since I’ve encountered such an all-out baddie in a book! With his creaking leather jacket and cyber-eye, for some reason he reminded me a little of the bad guy in Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker film.

It was quite a straight-forward plot but the unique characters made it an interesting read, and the central themes of the wild versus civilisation and what it means to be human gave it depth.  I think it’s a book that 9- to 12-year-olds who like animal stories will really enjoy. The ending was satisfying but also left some questions unanswered, so maybe there will be a sequel?

Now, what did I do with my old copy of Call of the Wild? I think it’s time to revisit it…

Thank you to Hot Key Books for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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  1. Christine York

     /  October 3, 2014

    Love the cover on this book.


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