Author: Kate DiCamillo
Cover Illustrator: Chris Sheban
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Audience: Ages 9-12
Summary: Twelve-year-old Rob Horton has recently moved with his father to a seedy motel in Lister, Florida. Ever since his mother’s death, Rob has shut up his feelings in a big “suitcase” and clamped it down tight. He is determined that nothing will make him cry again – not the bullies who torment him at his new school, not the ugly rash on his legs, and especially not missing his mother, whom he is very skilled at not thinking about.
But then two extraordinary things happen: Rob discovers a real-life tiger in a cage near the motel where he lives. On that same day, he meets Sistine Bailey, a feisty, independent-minded girl who lets out her feelings as readily as he holds his in. As Rob and Sistine learn to trust each other and, ultimately, to be friends, they prove that some things – like memories and heartache and tigers – can’t be locked up forever.
Literary elements at work in the story: Fiction novel set in an apparently small – even “backwoods” – town in Florida. It’s hard to tell by the story when it takes place…sometime after the invention of automobiles and vacuum cleaners is about the only hint we get.
Perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability: The main characters are quite diverse. Sistine is apparently the daughter of well-to-do (and recently divorced) parents: she dresses in fancy clothes that cause her to be teased at school and her grammar is better than anyone’s in the story. Rob’s dad comes across as being uneducated by using poor grammar but that could be simply a colloquialism – I grew up with many people in the deep South who spoke in a similar manner though they knew better. The wisest person in the story, the one Sistine refers to as a “prophetess,” is a black woman named Willie May who has befriended the motherless boy.
Scripture: John 15:12-14
Theology: This is a poignant story of loss and redemption and the part that friendship and love play in the healing process.
Faith Talk Questions:
- Throughout most of the story, how does Rob cope with things he can’t change? Why do you think the Threemonger brothers bully him and how does he deal with their threats and abuse?
- Sistine and Rob handle problems and situations in opposite ways. Which way do you believe is better?
- What is the rash on Rob’s legs? What do you think the cure for his rash might be?
- What is the significance of the tiger’s cage for Sistine? For Rob?
- What are some of Rob’s feelings that begin to surface with Sistine’s help and friendship? What occurs at the end of the story that allows Rob to “open the suitcase”? What happens to his relationship with his father then?
Review prepared by Union Presbyterian Seminary student Kelly Hames
Filed under: Books written for Grades 5-8 (Ages 10 -13), Books written for Grades 9 - 12 (Ages 14-17), High School Students, Middle Schoolers, Older Elementary Tagged: | bullies, family, Freedom, Friendship, Grief, redemption