Title: Tiger Boy
Author: Mitali Perkins
Illustrated by: Jamie Hogan
From Goodreads: "“One of the new tiger cubs has escaped from the reserve!”When a tiger cub escapes from a nature reserve near Neel’s island village, the rangers and villagers hurry to find her before the cub’s anxious mother follows suit and endangers them all. Mr. Gupta, a rich newcomer to the island, is also searching—he wants to sell the cub’s body parts on the black market. Neel and his sister, Rupa, resolve to find the cub first and bring her back to the reserve where she belongs.
The hunt for the cub interrupts Neel’s preparations for an exam to win a prestigious scholarship at a boarding school far from home. Neel doesn’t mind—he dreads the exam and would rather stay on his beloved island in the Sunderbans of West Bengal with his family and friends.
But through his encounter with the cub, Neil learns that sometimes you have to take risks to preserve what you love. And sometimes you have to sacrifice the present for the chance to improve the future."
My Opinion: Neel is a young boy who lives on an island in the Sunderbans of West Bengal who is happy and content with his life with the exception of two things: 1) the Headmaster of his school has entered Neel into a competition to win a scholarship to a prestigious boarding school in the larger city of Kolkata, India; and 2) the Bengal tiger reserve on a neighboring island has announced that a baby tiger has escaped and has made its way over to Neel's island, where it has become lost.
Neel's island, among others, has been devastated repeatedly by cyclones and people are having to leave to try to find work in the bigger cities, but Neel loves his island and his family so much that he never wants to leave, and if he wins the scholarship, he feels like he will lose both. He is a natural when it comes to reading or writing anything in English or Bangla, but math is another story altogether. He hates math and sees this as his way out of winning the scholarship and having to move away.
There is an evil man called Mr. Gupta who is trying to take over the island and who has absolutely no regard for the Sunderbans or any of their traditions. He cuts down the trees that serve as natural barriers to protect the rice and chili fields of the farmers from the cyclones when they hit, and when he hears about the lost tiger cub, he puts a bounty out on its head, hiring locals to help him find it by offering more money than they can turn down. Even if they know it's not the right thing to do, food is scarce, and money even more scarce, so they do it to feed and clothe their families. Neel's friend, Viju, tells him about the bounty, but since Viju and his father are helping Gupta to search the island, he swears Neel and his other friend, Ajay, to secrecy. Even though Neel knows he can't tell anyone or risk breaking his promise to Viju, he worries and worries about what's going to happen to that poor little cub if Gupta finds her.
What I loved most about this story was its heart. Neel and his sister, Rupa, are so moved by the story of the lost little tiger cub that they put themselves into danger's way to try to find her. Jai, Neel's father (whom he calls Baba), is so eager for Neel to win the scholarship and have a better life than he can give him, ends up going against what he knows is right to try to earn enough money to hire a tutor to help Neel pass the math portion of the scholarship examination. Everybody but Mr. Gupta have such big hearts and think about everyone else, which is so refreshing to read. I also loved the descriptions of the island and life on the island that Mitali Perkins injects with such clarity:
"This pond was freshwater, but most of the creeks and rivers in the Sunderbans were salty and muddy. Neel didn't mind - he loved the tang of salt on his tongue and the squish of mud between his toes. Home for him was the hiss of his father's boat a it slipped through the deltas, golpata branches swaying in the monsoon rains, and the evening smell of jasmine flowers near his house mingling with green chilies and fresh ilish fish simmering in mustard-seed oil. Neel had climbed all the tall palm trees, waded in the creeks, and foraged for wild guavas in every corner of the mangrove forest."
When you get to the end of the book, you learn that Mitali Perkins lived in the Sunderbans when she was young, which is why her descriptions are so, well, descriptive! I highly recommend this book to children and middle grade kids to teach them something as simple as how to be respectful to people and how to do what is right even when no one else is, to something bigger than themselves, the plight of the Bengal tiger and the lives of the people who live in Sunderbans.
I am giving this book a very happy 5 stars :D
I received a copy of this book free of charge through NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.