Book review

Secret Heart by David Almond (2001)

Most of the time, being stuck inside your own head is a pretty safe place to be, isn't it? You can think your own thoughts and dream your own dreams.

Joe Maloney lives more inside his head than outside. On the outside he has a bit of trouble with his speech, he stammers, and he isn't very good at school, when he bothers to go. On the inside it gets a bit rough as well though, sometimes. He sees things, creatures, just on the edge of eyesight that other people don't. He can slip into another skin, or fly with the larks. Out on the wasteland, alone, he can be anything.

He knew how the lives of people and the lives of beasts could merge out here in the wasteland. He knew what it was to be Joe Maloney but also more than Joe Maloney. Out here by day he could rise into the blue like a skylark. At night he could flicker through the darkness like a bat. He emptied his mind now of being just Joe Maloney. He felt weasel fur growing on the backs of his hands. He felt claws where his fingers were. He hissed and he was a snake slipping through ancient cellars beneath the Blessed Chapel. He crouched on all fours and his face and teeth sharpened as he took on the shape of a fox. Nobody knew that he knew how to do these things. They were secret, things that grew from his secret heart.

So he can easily pick up the call for help, when it comes, from the travelling circus. Call it a circus because they have a big top still, just about. It's sky blue, fading, like the people who work inside it. And it's beautiful.

There are no tigers left in this circus. There used to be, but they've all gone. The only animals left are the dancing dogs. And a pot-bellied pig. But the last tiger has left his spirit behind, and it is that which stalks into Joe Maloney's mind.

'It's always been said,' she whispered, 'that when the circus comes to an end, we'll need someone to take the beasts back to the forest. Only that way will the circus be truly ended. Only that way will our hearts be truly at rest. Only that way will we be able to think of beginning again.'

Who knows what brought the circus to Helmouth? But when Joe sees the circus and meets Corinna Finch he knows straight away that these are people that he can trust with his secret heart, for the circus has a secret heart too.

Read this book! I think you will love it! So simply told, and yet this story will carry you right away from reality, through dark fantasy, and back into the light again.

What can I read next?

Well, of course, if you have only just come across David Almond and haven't read his other books, you have a treat in store:

David Almond is a difficult man to follow. He blends fantasy with reality so that you can't see the join. For more mature readers, there is a longer novel by Jan Mark which also wanders seamlessly into total fantasy:

For slightly younger readers, you might enjoy something by Michael Morpurgo. Like David Almond, he is a clear and gentle storyteller:

If the circus has caught your imagination, you might like to look at this one by Kirsty Murray, which I thoroughly enjoyed and which is totally memorable. No magic though:

Also, the Bookchooser has found these books with a similar profile:

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