Joe lives with his mother in Helmouth, a forgotten village crumbling on the edge of the suburbs. His days are spent trying to evade the demands of school and the taunts of the local bullies. Joe's friend, Stanny, insists that Joe must toughen up, become a survivor—and he is adamant that a weekend in the wilderness with Stanny and his Uncle Joff will do the trick.
Into Joe's unhappy world comes Hackenschmidt's Circus, and with it the strangely familiar Corinna. She tells Joe, 'In the circus there is a secret heart'—a place of contained wildness where the barriers between the human and animal world are fluid. And indeed, Joe's dreams are already stalked by a tiger, so real that his skin and its pelt begin to feel as one....
Related collections and offers
|Age Range:||8 - 11 Years|
Read an Excerpt
All that night, Joe Maloney sweated, twisted and turned. He dreamed that engines roared and lights blazed. Men yelled, children screamed, dogs yelped. Metal hammered on metal. He dreamed that the surface of the earth was lifted and hung from great hooks in the sky. Beneath it, shapeless beasts danced in the dark. Then he lay dead still. Easy breath, easy heart. He smelt sawdust, canvas, animal sweat, animal dung. Gentle noises, creakings and flappings. He felt something fingering his skull, felt someone whispering his name. He was about to wake up in some new place.
"Joe!" yelled his mum. "Joseph!"
He opened his eyes: just his bedroom, pale sunlight filtering through thin curtains, childhood drawings taped to the walls, his clothes in a heap on the floor. He sniffed the air, trying to smell the tiger again.
"Joe!" she called. "Come on, son, will you?"
He slithered from the tangled bed, picked up his clothes and dressed himself. He dragged on his heavy boots. He sniffed, listened, narrowed his eyes.
In the bathroom, he splashed water onto himself, then leaned close to the mirror, inspected his pale face, his tangled hair, his one green eye, his one brown eye. He touched his skin. He hadn't changed. He was still just Joe Maloney.
He went down into the kitchen. She was at the table, pouring orange juice. She shook her head and clicked her tongue. She tugged his shirt square on his shoulders. She fastened the laces of his boots. "Joe Maloney. What you like?"
"L-like me," he said.
She cuffed him gently on the shoulder.
"Like you. And you're going to need me to get you up and get you dressed all your life?"
He grinned again.
He buttered some toast and chewed it. She smiled, and smoothed his hair with her fingers and palms.
"I had a d-dream," Joe said.
"Now there's a change."
"There was . . ."
She shook her head, but she leaned toward him, about to listen.
"There was . . . ?" she said.
Joe rubbed his eyes and blinked. He looked out of the window and gasped. The summit of a blue tent stood high over the rooftops at the village's edge.
He jabbed the air. A blue tent, a blue paler than the morning sky. A great blue tent that trembled slightly in the morning breeze.
"What?" she said.
"There, look, Mum."
She narrowed her eyes and peered.
"Tent," he said. "A tent."
"Oh . . . Aye. Now where might that come from?"
They gazed at it together, the slope of blue rising from the dusty red rooftops.
"Fancy that," she said. "A circus or something, eh? Last time a circus came to Helmouth was in . . ." She shrugged. "Before our time, I reckon."
Joe shoved a piece of toast into his mouth. She put her arm around him as he prepared to go out.
"Now, then, Joseph Maloney," she said.
He lowered his eyes, then turned them to her.
"You know what I'm going to say, don't you?"
"You make sure you get into school today. OK?"
She kissed him.
"Don't want that rotten Wag Man coming round again, do I?"
"You. What a lad. Sometimes wonder what I brought into the world. How can a lad be so lovely and so much trouble? Can you answer me that?"
"No, Mum. Come on, then, give us a kiss."
She took him to the door, watched him walk through the garden to the front gate. She raised her finger as he turned to wave. "Be sure, now," she said.
"Yes, Mum," he said, then hurried...