- The Tightrope Walkers by David Almond
Dom, Holly, and Vincent show three very different faces of the experience of growing up on the shores of the river Tyne in the decades following World War II. Dom’s father is a caulker at a Newcastle shipyard, having risen just a few steps up the labor hierarchy from his father before him. Holly’s father is an open-hearted office worker who tries to reach beyond the class-based resentment of Dom’s dad. Vincent’s father is rumored to be in prison, with brutish Vincent on the fast track to follow him. The three children negotiate their relationships over the course of Dom’s account of their early lives through young adulthood. The character constellation here is very similar to that of Kit’s Wilderness (BCCB 1/00): with Holly, Dom excels in school and falls in love with tightrope walking after circus performers come to town; with Vincent he learns to shoot, steal, and smoke. Here, though, the dreamy writer and artistic girl do not pull the dark boy out of his troubled past; instead, Vincent nearly destroys both Dom and Holly in a vicious attempted murder and successful rape. In prose that reads like richly imagistic poetry, Dom sorts through what it means to walk a metaphorical tightrope, caught between social classes, between his mother’s dreams and his father’s fears, between his gentler, creative nature and his attraction to the rough camaraderie of outlaw boys and working men. The interplay between the characters and their environments results in a stunningly human and humanizing story. This is by far Almond’s best work to date, and in light of the awards he’s already accrued, that’s saying something.