Booklist Reviews

/*Starred Review*/ Gr. 5-up. The tiger that becomes Joe Maloney's alter ego first appears to him in a dream, and when he wakes, he discovers that a circus has come to Helmouth, the dreary village where he lives with his mother. Joe feels inextricably drawn to the great tent, but he cannot explain why. Words are difficult for the stammering boy, who finds it hard to separate what exists in his head from what exists in the world, a blurriness that continues when he meets Corrina at the big top, a girl who seems strangely familiar to him. What special bond draws these two together? What surprising destiny does Joe discover beneath the tent's blue ceiling, with its remnants of an ancient, golden sun; a silver moon; and stars? The answers are an exquisite demonstration that, as Corinna tells Joe, "The most important things are the most mysterious." The border between the numinous and the real is familiar territory for the British author, but this time he limns the landscape as seldom before--with heartbreaking yearning and richly powerful symbols that evoke both heaven and hell. With echoes of Ray Bradbury and William Blake, Secret Heart is filled with scenes of breathtaking beauty, wonder, and astonishment. It is an unforgettable achievement. ((Reviewed October 1, 2002)) Copyright 2002 Booklist Reviews

Horn Book Guide Reviews

Almond's undeniable gifts run away with him in this overwrought, self-indulgent story about Joe, a fatherless misfit, getting in touch with his wild side. The sense of mystical portent that Almond has used previously here just hangs heavily in the air, obstructing the reader's view of what's going on. There's a lot of inflated talk about past lives, dreams, and reality, but, like a taxidermied beast, there's no real heart at the novel's center--just stuffing. Copyright 2003 Horn Book Guide Reviews

Horn Book Magazine Reviews

Almond's undeniable gifts unfortunately run away with him in this overwrought, self-indulgent story about a boy getting in touch with his wild side. During the day, Joe Maloney, a fatherless misfit from a decaying English suburb, sees skylarks no one else can see. At night he dreams of a tiger, which seems so much a part of him that he can feel "fur beginning to break through his skin." The sense of mystical portent that Almond used to great effect in his previous books here just hangs heavily in the air, obstructing the reader's view of what's going on. We are told over and over that Joe is special, by his mother and by various cryptic performers in a dilapidated traveling circus holding its last-ever shows in the area. A disfigured old fortuneteller laps up Joe's spit and tells him that "the heart is beating in you as it should, then far beyond it is the secret one, like some creature panting in a deep dark cave." Yet Joe's extraordinariness always feels trumped up instead of intrinsic to the character. There's a lot of inflated talk about past lives and the hazy boundary between dreams and reality, but, like a taxidermied beast as opposed to a live one, there's no real heart at the novel's center-just stuffing. Copyright 2002 Horn Book Magazine Reviews

Kirkus Reviews

From a master of the symbolism of darkness as it stands in opposition to light and hope: the opaque story of an unusual boy named Joe and a cast of eccentric and unsavory characters. Joe, who feels " . . . the lark singing inside him and the tiger prowling inside him," is a complex, enigmatic character. While he is sensitive and intelligent inside, he is outwardly troubled, awkward, stammering, and dreamily vague. Townsfolk, including his peers, psychiatrists, social workers, teachers, and policemen consistently misunderstand and sometimes victimize him. When a down-at-the-heels circus arrives in town for its last performances before folding, this lonely outsider is drawn to the circus folk and they to him. They are looking for a hero who has the heart of a tiger to carry the skin of the circus's last tiger into the forest. A blind diviner uses her odd rituals to foretell that Joe will be that hero. So does young Corinna, a circus flyer who speaks in esoterica and believes Joe to be her twin from another life. The two carry the tiger skin into the night forest and succeed in driving away a swaggering thug who specializes in toughening up boys with his own ritual of cruel blood sport. The story ends with a metaphorical reconciliation as Joe's constant, devoted mother invites the shunned circus folk to a party in her garden, where they delight neighborhood children. The reader senses that Joe's secret heart may have found a "home." Beautifully written, this nonetheless is a largely metaphysical tale of stalker versus prey (real and surreal, animal and human), featuring mainly symbolic characters with whom readers may not connect and about whom they may not care. (Fiction. 12-15) Copyright Kirkus 2002 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved

Publishers Weekly Reviews

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. (Oct.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

School Library Journal Reviews

Gr 6-10-Stuttering and often at a loss for words, Joe Maloney was born otherworldly, and his mother is his only advocate in his small English village. Peers pay him little heed other than to castigate him; teachers disparage his very presence. Even his mother says, "You're such a funny'n- Something different in your blood or something." Joe is confronted with myriad problems that include a friendship with Stanny Mole, who admonishes him to become a man, to go out and kill with him and Joff, a snake-tattooed miscreant-of-a-man. Dreaming his youth away, Joe skips school, heading for the forest at the call of a roaming tiger. He is befriended by Corinne, a Gypsy girl and young trapeze artist from a newly arrived, worn-out circus. She introduces him to capricious carnival types who gently encourage him to find his own way, to discover the heart of the tiger that lies dormant within him. The fine line between reality and fantasy is always neatly navigated yet left deliciously ethereal. Readers are forever left to wonder where one leaves off and the other begins. In some ways, the chimerical flavor of Almond's previous books is compromised here by a bit more heavy-handedness. Though not as mysterious as his other titles, this book has thought-provoking allegory that will engage older readers in more and more layers of meaning.-Daniel L. Darigan, West Chester University, PA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

Voice of Youth Advocates Reviews

Joe Maloney is a stuttering outcast, constantly taunted by schoolmates. His only friend wants him to "toughen up" with the help of a terrifying thug. In his dreams, however, Joe is different. His dreams are born of his "secret heart," which allows him to see and become all kinds of birds and beasts. After a vivid dream about a tiger, Joe feels drawn to a newly arrived ragtag circus. There he meets Corrina, a young trapeze artist whom he tells of his dream. She introduces him to a blind woman who sees people's true hearts. The woman tells Joe that he must help the tiger in his dreams. In doing so, he transforms both himself and the circus. This book is a very different coming-of-age story. Joe's journey is touching while avoiding the clich s that often inhabit books in this genre. Characteristic of Almond, the language is lyrical and often beautiful. The book is strongly focused on fantasy, perhaps more than in Almond's other works, but it is still rooted in a gritty reality. Joe's transformation from an outcast to a shaman bound to the tiger who is the soul of the circus is mystical, but the conclusion remains realistic and authentic. Fans of Almond will find the setting and tone reminiscent of both Kit's Wilderness (Delacorte Press, 2000/VOYA April 2000) and Counting Stars (Delacorte Press, 2002/VOYA August 2002). This book is highly recommended for both school and public libraries as it continues Almond's string of works featuring a stunning magical realism.-Sherrie Williams. 4Q 3P M J S Copyright 2002 Voya Reviews