Linda Coggin – The Boy with the Tiger’s Heart

lindacoggin-boywiththetigersheartA girl raised in the wild, a desperate race for freedom and a boy with a fiercely guarded secret…

When Nona’s guardian kills himself, she is immediately suspected of murdering him. In a world where nature and darkness are feared, where wild animals are held captive and cities are illuminated by permanent light, who will believe her innocence? Nona must flee with her only friend – a bear who is strangely human.

In their desperate attempt to escape capture, Nona and her bear encounter two strange boys, Caius and Jay. Together, the four of them will hide, and fight, and make the deadliest of enemies in their desperate race to a forbidden place called The Edge – where nature is unrestrained, where there is light and shade, forest and mountain, and where there are no shackles or boundaries.

A poetic, haunting and unforgettable modern fable about nature, society, and what it is that makes us human.

The Boy with the Tiger’s Heart immediately caught my attention with its intriguing title and that beautiful cover. Yet from the synopsis I wasn’t really clear on what to expect from the story. Together with the title it was somewhat suggestive of a fairytale, which might be correct but it’s a tale more of the level of an original Grimm story than that of a Disney film. Yet despite its somewhat bleak and sad narrative, overall the novel evokes a sense of escape and hope of a better future and it left me optimistic about Nona, Caius, and Jay’s futures.  

The novel is centred around a trio of youngsters, who all come from tragic backgrounds. Nona (short for No Name) was raised as a wolf child, before losing her adoptive, canine family to what is known in her world as the Cull, in which all non-domesticated animals or tamed wild animals were slaughtered. Caius, the boy she first meets after fleeing the compound where she lived after the Cull, is a child from a fractured home, living with an abusive stepfather and an ineffectual mother. And the mysterious Jay, whose strange connection to Nona’s guardian is only slowly revealed to the fullest, is Nona’s opposite; raised in a loving home, he set out on his own to live in the wild.

Together these three set out on an adventure, fleeing to The Edge, the world beyond the sphere of influence of Dissville, where people and wild animals can be free. Coggin’s world is strangely elusive. It seems to be a far-future version of our own, but whether it’s a post-apocalyptic or dystopian version isn’t quite clear. What is clear is that there has been a retreat from nature, as evidenced by the Cull and The Edge, and life – or perhaps respectable life – is constrained to the city, known as Dissville. And they don’t flee on their own, they are joined by Abel Dancer, a bear that lived in the same compound as Nona and who is strangely attached to her. Their affection for each other and their mutual trust is wonderful and Abel Dancer is one of my favourite things about the story.

Coggin’s writing style in the novel is interesting. Her use of third person omniscient present creates an immediacy and at once a remove that draws the reader in, yet doesn’t restrict him to a single protagonist’s viewpoint. The writing is beautiful, combining lovely, evocative prose with some challenging ideas. While The Boy with the Tiger’s Heart is officially marketed as a middle grade title, I’d position it at the older side of that scale, perhaps even a very young YA. Yet the story feels timeless due to its fable-like nature. The only problem I had with the narrative was the protagonists’ arc. Even though their story was exciting, it didn’t actually feel as if their was a very pronounced growth in their characters. The only one who seems substantially different in himself is Jay; Nona and Caius may have changed their stars and learned to trust each other, they’re not significantly different.

The Boy with the Tiger’s Heart not only has a lovely title and cover, but has a lovely tale in-between the covers as well. The story is beautiful and haunting. At 229 pages the book is a slim volume, yet tells a complete and satisfying story. I really enjoyed the time I spent with The Boy with the Tiger’s Heart and discovering Linda Coggin’s writing.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.