A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Rob and Sistine share an appreciation for art and poetry, starting from shortly after they've met, as she's amazed that unlike everyone else in the "hick town," he knows what the Sistine Chapel is and can discuss it in detail. She also recites William Blake's "Tyger, tyger, burning bright" poem more than once.
An adult character tells Sistine, "Ain't nobody going to come and rescue you. You got to rescue yourself. You understand what I mean?" But messages of friendship, family, and reconciliation pale against a bombardment of multiple animals being killed by human stupidity or cruelty.
Positive Role Models
Rob's now-deceased mom, from whom he inherited his sculpting skill and love of beauty, is a strong force who leaves a positive example but also crushing grief in her wake. Rob's father is determined to quash all feeling, his own and Rob's, in the wake of his loss. Neither of them is entirely thinking straight throughout the story, though Rob is trying hard to figure out how to do the right thing. Sistine is deeply angry about her father's desertion and betrayal, and her helplessness to do anything about it. All this stress often leads to poor choices. A Black housekeeper at the motel offers wisdom. Some adults, such as the motel owner who got the tiger as payment on a debt and can't decide whether to keep him captive or kill him, show no positive qualities at all.
The cast is White save for one Black character, a housekeeper who dispenses wisdom and whose portrayal seems cartoony. At one point she says, "I ain't got to do nothing except stay Black and die."
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Violence & Scariness
Rob's father shoots a bird out of the sky just to prove he can, and other animals meet violent death due to well-meant but lethal choices by kids and adults. The man who owns the tiger can't decide whether to keep him in a cage as a roadside attraction or kill him for his skin. Bullying kids attack and manhandle Rob on the school bus; adults do nothing. Sistine gets in physical fights at school every day. Guns are part of the scenery and sometimes kill. In the past, a father beats his daughter for freeing her pet bird, saying the bird would be snake food.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Rob and Sistine hold hands or hug on occasion, more for support than romance. Sistine's father has deserted the family and run off with his secretary, whose endowments do not include secretarial skills.
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A character exclaims "Do Jesus!" in moments of stress.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
An adult character is often seen smoking.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Tiger Rising, first published in 2001 and adapted for a feature-length film releasing Jan. 21, 2022, was Kate DiCamillo's first book after Because of Winn-Dixie. But if you're expecting a similar, classic, feel-good DiCamillo tale of relatable, determined tweens coping with life's wrongs with the help of quirky friends, family, and endearing animals, this is not it. It's much darker. Multiple animals are killed; one family is torn apart by the mom's death from cancer; another by the father's running off with his secretary, abandoning his wife and daughter; the owner of a scuzzy Florida motel is holding a tiger captive and can't decide whether or not to kill him. Guns appear throughout and sometimes kill. The kids are appealing and relatable in their quest, but a lot of foreshadowed doom overhangs the effort, and the eventual emotional breakthroughs and glimmers of light often seem paltry and inadequate measured against the suffering and death it took to get them.
Is It Any Good?
Death, betrayal, grief, defeat, and ill-advised choices vie with life-changing friendship and moments of beauty in Kate DiCamillo's tale of a captive tiger and tweens who want to free him. A good deal darker than the author's previous book, Because of Winn-Dixie, The Tiger Rising features complex, troubled characters such as protagonist Rob's dad, who cares tenderly for his son's medical issues but kills a bird just because he can, over his wife's protests and his boy's tears.
"'You think I can hit it?' his father said. 'You think I can hit that itty-bitty bird?'
"'Robert,' his mother said, 'what do you want to shoot that bird for?'
"'To prove I can,' said his father.
"There was a single crack and the bird was suspended in midair, pinned for a moment to the sky with his father's bullet. Then it fell.
"'Oh, Robert,' his mother said....
"Rob thought about the bird and how when he had finally found its small still warm body, he had started to cry.
"His father told him not to.
"'It ain't nothing to cry over,' he said. 'It's just a bird.'"
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.