*Taken from Goodreads*
Walking through the misty Florida woods one morning, twelve-year-old Rob Horton is stunned to encounter a tiger – a real-life, very large tiger – pacing back and forth in a cage. What’s more, on the same extraordinary day, he meets Sistine Bailey, a girl who shows her feelings as readily as Rob hides his. As they learn to trust each other, and ultimately, to be friends, Rob and Sistine prove that some things – like memories, and heartaches, and tigers – can’t be locked up forever.
Kate DiCamillo is a talented writer. I have at least four of her books, and always manage to find myself sucked into her stories; all of them except for this one. I debated writing this review for a few reasons. One was that as a 20 year-old adult I do not feel that I should have much input on children’s novels. They aren’t geared towards me, and any book that encourages a child to read is a good book. However, here I am, weighing in on this book and a few of the troupes I found within.
The story itself was a little disappointing. Not only was it unbelievable, but I also had little sympathy for DiCamillo’s characters. The cast was static to me, hardly any character development in sight. I was particularly disappointed in the characters of Sistine and Willie May, for similar reasons.
Sistine read as a stock manic pixie dream girl, which is defined as “that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” Sistine’s whole existence seemed to revolve around coaxing Rob out of the shell he had built for himself and teach him to chase after a better life. She is there to help him find his happiness, not develop as a character herself.
Willie May acts as in a similar way. I would classify Willie as the magical negro, which is the black stock character that exists solely to provide spiritual or mystical help to the white savior protagonist. This stereotype is upheld by Sistine consistently calling Willie a “prophetess” and even scolding her for breaking from this role at one point. There is an expectation that Willie will be the one to provide life lessons and act as their personal sage.
I picked out these two characters because of these stereotypes that they fill. It’s lazy writing, and I expected more from DiCamillo. An interesting premise was ruined by shoddy characters who fit more molds than they break, making what could have been a heartbreaking story common. Also, by having stereotypes such as this it damages images built up by other writers and individuals. Child readers deserve more than this, and DiCamillo has delivered better. Despite my poor opinion of this novel, I still believe in her ability as a storyteller, because I have seen it before, and I am always excited for another one of her novels to appear.