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. He made all his feelings go inside the suitcase; he stuffed them in tight and then sat on the suitcase and locked it shut. That was the way he not-thought about things.
I’m Feeling Sentimental
Have you ever picked up a book and felt like you were transported back to your favorite days of childhood? I have several times in various books and authors, but no one does it for me like Kate DiCamillo. I recently reviewed her book Flora and Ulysses and spoke some on the reminiscent and sentimental feeling that exudes from her books. She will always be one of my favorite authors, and this book today remains one of my top favorites in children’s literature.
I find it rare that a writer can successfully pull off a sad story and not make the audience mad. People, I’m still mad at Veronica Roth for ruining Allegiant (I smell a review in the future . . . ) and don’t even get me started on Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker. Yet, something about the book I’m reviewing today makes its bittersweet story okay.
One Boy’s Secret
Rob Horton doesn’t want to think about his mom. He doesn’t want to think about the funeral. He doesn’t want to think about Norton and Billy Threemonger, the bullies that greet him on the school bus every single morning. In fact not thinking at all is the best way to go these days. He just needs to keep the suitcase in his brain closed. And he does just that, until he meets the new girl in town: Sistine.
Sistine is everything Rob is not: angry, vocal, and emotional. They make an odd pair, but as two outcasts at school they take care of each other. And one day, Rob decides to share with Sistine his biggest secret and it will change him forever.
A Tiger in the Woods
Totally off subject but how about that paragraph title for a golf pun?? 😉 Cheesy I know. Interruption of review finished.
It is no secret to the reader that Rob has found a tiger in the woods. This to me is one of the coolest plot lines to be found in children’s literature. But maybe that’s just because I’m obsessed with cats . . . that aside, it is an interesting way to begin a book. And it works, very well.
Rob uses the tiger as a way to keep his “suitcase” closed, he even vocalizes this at one point. This is the turning point of most of this (very short) book. The thoughts and feelings Rob has locked in that suitcase are much like the tiger in the woods: caged up, against it’s will. Sistine is the complete opposite of Rob in that way and she refuses to hold anything in. But in letting everything go, Sistine herself still denies the truth. Rob and Sistine present us with two very different responses of a similar situation, with similar results: the loss of a parent.
This content in some ways catapults this book into an older age range of students: perhaps 10-12 , but more likely 12-14. But the way this content is dealt with is fascinating. I dealt with some of the same issues Rob has, at least in regards to stuffing everything and just not thinking about the hard things life dealt. In the long run, that escape does not work. But neither does leaving everything out in the open as Sistine does. We see this as the book progresses and while the resolution may not be quite as satisfying as many readers would like it to be, it is realistic and it is hopeful.
Rob’s mom died recently, and he moved with his Dad to a new town in order to get away from her memory. This was Rob’s dad’s decision, but it greatly affected Rob. The relationship here between Rob and his dad is a subplot that doesn’t often appear in children’s literature, at least in my experience. It is refreshing because although we know Rob’s dad made some bad decisions when it came to dealing with his grief and helping his son in the mourning process, he realizes his mistake and eventually helps Rob understand that we do need to move on, but we also must mourn. It is an enjoyable maturation in the relationship, and much preferable to the common theme of abusive, incapable fathers that are often written about nowadays.
To Read or Not to Read
To be completely honest, this plot and the subtleties of it may go over the head of most children. But it is a good story and has other themes that children can catch on to including bullying, relating to and respecting your elders, making friends with those who are outcast, etc.
I enjoyed this book the first time I read it and I enjoyed again when I read it last week. I forgot how sad it can be though. It is a bittersweet story, but it is more sweet than it is bitter. All in all, I definitely recommend reading it. It’s for all ages and anyone could enjoy a short rest from the world to learn from Rob and Sistine. Kate DiCamillo definitely doesn’t disappoint.
Until the next tiger comes. 🙂
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