Featured Review: Music for Tigers (Michelle Kadarusman)
About This Book:
Shipped halfway around the world to spend the summer with her mom’s eccentric Australian relatives, middle schooler and passionate violinist Louisa is prepared to be resentful. But life at the family’s remote camp in the Tasmanian rainforest is intriguing, to say the least. There are pig-footed bandicoots, scary spiders, weird noises and odors in the night, and a quirky boy named Colin who cooks the most amazing meals. Not the least strange is her Uncle Ruff, with his unusual pet and veiled hints about something named Convict Rock.
Finally, Louisa learns the truth: Convict Rock is a sanctuary established by her great-grandmother Eleanor—a sanctuary for Tasmanian tigers, Australia’s huge marsupials that were famously hunted into extinction almost a hundred years ago. Or so the world believes. Hidden in the rainforest at Convict Rock, one tiger remains. But now the sanctuary is threatened by a mining operation, and the last Tasmanian tiger must be lured deeper into the forest. The problem is, not since her great-grandmother has a member of the family been able to earn the shy tigers’ trust.
As the summer progresses, Louisa forges unexpected connections with Colin, with the forest, and—through Eleanor’s journal—with her great-grandmother. She begins to suspect the key to saving the tiger is her very own music. But will her plan work? Or will the enigmatic Tasmanian tiger disappear once again, this time forever?
A moving coming-of-age story wrapped up in the moss, leaves, and blue gums of the Tasmanian rainforest where, hidden under giant ferns, crouches its most beloved, and lost, creature.
*Reviewed by Michelle Blount Staff Reviewer*
A vividly descriptive Middle-Grade work with an ecological focus--enriched by elements of music, friendship, and atypical neurology.
When her parents get busy with work, Canadian-born Louisa is shipped off to spend the summer with an uncle she's never met--in the Tarkine forests of Tasmania. Initially, Louisa is agonizingly disinterested in everything outside of her drive to practice her violin. Her uncle is a recluse who lives in an abandoned logging camp turned makeshift animal preserve--and is focused on a dying bandicoot, which has apparently been his sole companion for many years. The only person her age nearby turns out to be an autistic boy named Colin, whose savant expertise for the forest is a counter to his uncertainty over social cues. And there is a family mystery of sorts, revolving around the grandmother that Louisa never knew...
I was drawn to this book because I recognized the hindquarters of a Tasmanian Tiger on the cover. (It was in middle school that I learned of these so recently extinct creatures, and became intensely fascinated with them.) And while it turned out to be far lighter on the "Tigers" than I would have liked, it was still good to see them referenced and given a bit of life.
The pacing is a bit slow, the tension only rising a couple of times. The mystery angle in this story is a bit thin, as well--since no one is actually trying to keep any of the family "secrets" from the MC (Louisa was simply too obsessed with her violin to pay attention to what her mother had tried to explain to her about her great-grandmother, the camp, and the animals their family has long tried to protect.) The bits of her great-grand's diary she's able to read are a delight--written with a strong voice and a sense of historical authenticity. But just as Louisa is starting to connect with her, we find the rest of her personal entries were lost in a fire. And the great-grandmother's voice is, sadly, not revisited.
Louisa herself is a bit difficult to connect with for much of the book. Her fixation on her violin dominates her self-identity, which makes more sense when we eventually learn she's had problems with performance anxiety and failed her previous children's orchestra auditions... Although it's revealed so late into the story, and hinted at so little, it struck this reader as oddly surprising.
On the plus side, Louisa and Colin's friendship is both a prominent element and a highlight--leading to noteworthy character growth for each. Louisa is largely adaptive to Colin's quirks from the get-go (thanks in part to his mother's explanation of his behaviors and difficulties), and at one point even assists him in interpreting the facial expressions and intentions of some of his more snide classmates. And while Colin's savantism stands as a commonly known possible aspect of being on the autism spectrum, his movement coping for agitation/overstimulation is less so.
I would readily recommend this for young contemporary fiction and nature lovers. There's some great potential here for building empathy, educating on species extinction, and expanding familiarity with neurological diversity--all while steeping readers in the atmosphere of an incredibly unique biome.
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