cover image SECRET HEART


David Almond, . . Delacorte, $15.95 (208pp) ISBN 978-0-385-72947-5

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.)