Joe Maloney is out of place in this world. His mother wants him to be a man, and he can't be that yet. His only friend, Stanny Mole, wants to teach him how to kill, and Joe can't learn that. Joe's mind is always somewhere else: on the weird creatures he sees in the distant sky, the songs he hears in the air around him, the vibrations of life he feels everywhere. Everybody laughs at Joe Maloney.
And then a tattered circus comes to town, and a tiger comes for him. It leads him out into the night, and nothing in Joe Maloney's world is ever the same again.
The transformative power of imagination and beauty flows through this story of a boy who walks where others wouldn't dare to go, a boy with the heart of a tiger, an unlikely hero who knows that sometimes the most important things are the most mysterious.
As mysterious and spiritual as Almond's previous novels (Skellig; Kit's Wilderness) this initiation story explores the contrasting worlds of dreams and wakefulness, then forms an artful meshing of the two realms. Around the time a circus comes to town, Joe Maloney, a stuttering boy with poetic vision, dreams of a prowling tiger. He doesn't find the tiger under the well-worn tent of the traveling circus stationed in his "wasteland" of a town, but he does find a group of downtrodden performers, outcasts like himself. Corinna, a young trapeze artist, discovers a kindred spirit in Joe, and together they chart a mystical journey through the wilderness. Believing that Joe possesses the heart of a tiger, Corinna offers encouragement, support and understanding. Through her belief in him, Joe finds the courage to follow his own path even though he is often met with jeers. Almond fans, who relish the author's skill at creating surreal landscapes and otherworldly images, will not be disappointed by this tale, though in many ways this novel's threads are more disparate. Readers must wait it out until the final chapters to see them joined. Although most of the book is characteristically dark and intense, Joe moves steadily towards the light as, escorted by a motley crew of circus people, he travels an evocative road towards self-discovery. Ages 10-up.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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May 10, 2004
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Excerpt from Secret Heart by David Almond
One All that night, Joe Maloney sweated, twisted and turned. He dreamed that engines roared and lights blazed. Men yelled, children screamed, dogs yelped. Metal hammered on metal. He dreamed that the surface of the earth was lifted and hung from great hooks in the sky. Beneath it, shapeless beasts danced in the dark. Then he lay dead still. Easy breath, easy heart. He smelt sawdust, canvas, animal sweat, animal dung. Gentle noises, creakings and flappings. He felt something fingering his skull, felt someone whispering his name. He was about to wake up in some new place. "Joe!" yelled his mum. "Joseph!" He opened his eyes: just his bedroom, pale sunlight filtering through thin curtains, childhood drawings taped to the walls, his clothes in a heap on the floor. He sniffed the air, trying to smell the tiger again. "Joe!" she called. "Come on, son, will you?" He slithered from the tangled bed, picked up his clothes and dressed himself. He dragged on his heavy boots. He sniffed, listened, narrowed his eyes. "Joe!" In the bathroom, he splashed water onto himself, then leaned close to the mirror, inspected his pale face, his tangled hair, his one green eye, his one brown eye. He touched his skin. He hadn't changed. He was still just Joe Maloney. "Joseph!" He went down into the kitchen. She was at the table, pouring orange juice. She shook her head and clicked her tongue. She tugged his shirt square on his shoulders. She fastened the laces of his boots. "Joe Maloney. What you like?" He grinned. "L-like me," he said. She cuffed him gently on the shoulder. "Like you. And you're going to need me to get you up and get you dressed all your life?" He grinned again. "Yes." He buttered some toast and chewed it. She smiled, and smoothed his hair with her fingers and palms. "I had a d-dream," Joe said. "Now there's a change." "There was . . ." She shook her head, but she leaned toward him, about to listen. "There was . . . ?" she said. Joe rubbed his eyes and blinked. He looked out of the window and gasped. The summit of a blue tent stood high over the rooftops at the village's edge. "What's that?" "Eh?" "L-look, Mum." He jabbed the air. A blue tent, a blue paler than the morning sky. A great blue tent that trembled slightly in the morning breeze. "What?" she said. "There, look, Mum." She narrowed her eyes and peered. "Tent," he said. "A tent." "Oh . . . Aye. Now where might that come from?" They gazed at it together, the slope of blue rising from the dusty red rooftops. "Fancy that," she said. "A circus or something, eh? Last time a circus came to Helmouth was in . . ." She shrugged. "Before our time, I reckon." Joe shoved a piece of toast into his mouth. She put her arm around him as he prepared to go out. "Now, then, Joseph Maloney," she said. He lowered his eyes, then turned them to her. "You know what I'm going to say, don't you?" "Yes, Mum." "You make sure you get into school today. OK?" "OK, Mum." She kissed him. "Don't want that rotten Wag Man coming round again, do I?" "No, Mum." "You. What a lad. Sometimes wonder what I brought into the world. How can a lad be so lovely and so much trouble? Can you answer me that?" "No, Mum." "No, Mum. Come on, then, give us a kiss." She took him to the door, watched him walk through the garden to the front gate. She raised her finger