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The Tightrope Walkers
Cover of The Tightrope Walkers
The Tightrope Walkers
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International award winner David Almond draws on memories of his early years in Tyneside, England, for a moving coming-of-age novel, masterfully told.A gentle visionary coming of age in the shadow of...
International award winner David Almond draws on memories of his early years in Tyneside, England, for a moving coming-of-age novel, masterfully told.A gentle visionary coming of age in the shadow of...
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Description-

  • International award winner David Almond draws on memories of his early years in Tyneside, England, for a moving coming-of-age novel, masterfully told.

    A gentle visionary coming of age in the shadow of the shipyards of northern England, Dominic Hall is torn between extremes. On the one hand, he craves the freedom he feels when he steals away with the eccentric girl artist next door, Holly Stroud—his first and abiding love—to balance above the earth on a makeshift tightrope. With Holly, Dom dreams of a life different in every way from his shipbuilder dad's, a life fashioned of words and images and story. On the other hand, he finds himself irresistibly drawn to the brutal charms of Vincent McAlinden, a complex bully who awakens something wild and reckless and killing in Dom. In a raw and beautifully crafted bildungsroman, David Almond reveals the rich inner world of a boy teetering on the edge of manhood, a boy so curious and open to impulse that we fear for him and question his balance—and ultimately exult in his triumphs.

About the Author-

  • I grew up in a large Catholic family in Felling-on-Tyne: four sisters and one brother. I always knew I'd be a writer —I wrote stories and stitched them into little books. I had an uncle who was a printer, and in his printing shop I learned my love of black words on white pages. I loved our local library and dreamed of seeing books with my name on the cover on its shelves. I also dreamed of playing for Newcastle United (and I still wait for the call!). There was much joy in my childhood, but also much sadness: a baby sister died when I was seven; my dad died when we were all still young; my mum was always seriously ill with arthritis. But it was a childhood, like all childhoods, that provided everything a writer needs, and it illuminates and informs everything I write.

    After school I read English and American literature. When I graduated I became a teacher — long holidays, short days, just perfect for a writer. After five years I gave up the job and lived in a commune in rural Norfolk where I wrote a long adult novel that was rejected by every U.K. publisher. I had two collections of short stories published by the tiny IRON Press. I started another adult novel, put it aside, and suddenly, out of the blue, I found myself writing Skellig. It was as if the story had been waiting for me, and once I began, it seemed to write itself. I hadn't expected to write a children's novel, but in some way it was the natural outcome of everything I'd done before, and was the stepping-stone to everything I've done since.

    For years, I was hardly published and hardly anyone knew about me apart from a handful of keen fans. And I made just about no money at all from writing. That didn't really matter to me. I'd keep on writing, no matter what. Then I wrote Skellig, and everything changed. I began to sell lots of books, to be translated into many languages, to travel, to win lots of prizes. I've written a number of novels after Skellig, including Kit's Wilderness, The Fire-Eaters, Clay and A Song for Ella Grey. There have been stage versions of the novels, and films and an opera are on their way.

    Three Things You Might Not Know About Me:

    1. I love Japanese food — except for the thing I was given once that looked like an alien's brain.

    2. My first TV appearance was as an altar boy in a televised mass when I was eleven.

    3. My grandfather was a bookie (he took bets on horse races). His advice? "Never bet." He also told me, "Never read novels. They're all just lies."

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from January 26, 2015
    In a powerfully realistic bildungsroman from award-winning author Almond (The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean), Dominic Hall, the son of a working man from Newcastle, seems destined for greater success than was possible for his ill-educated and often angry father. It’s the late 1960s, and the times are definitely changing. Though Dom “was born in a hovel on the banks of the Tyne, as so many of us were back then,” his quick mind has opened up to him a wider world of ideas and the chance to be the first in his family to attend college. Like good and bad angels on either shoulder, however, are his friends, Holly Stroud, an eccentric child of the middle-class, and Vincent McAlinden, an incorrigible and sometimes frightening troublemaker who shares the Halls’ blue-collar background. Dom is drawn in opposite directions by these two as he negotiates a difficult, sometimes dangerous world. Almond’s characteristic penetrating writing and finely drawn characters are on full display in a story more fully grounded in a specific and important historical moment than anything he has published heretofore. Ages 14–up.

  • School Library Journal

    Starred review from January 1, 2015

    Gr 9 Up-Dominic Hall is the son of a shipbuilder, living in modest conditions in mid-20th century England. As he grows up, he finds himself torn between two influences-the dreamy intellectual artist girl next door and the brutal outcast boy who seems to cultivate a darker side of Dominic's nature. His coming-of-age is marked by the ramifications of his choices between the two. The Tightrope Walkers is a tour de force. Almond's gifted prose sets readers firmly in the grim, gray-skied setting of a post-World War II British town inhabited by deeply layered and well-crafted characters. The use of a thick working-class dialect for many of the protagonists yields immersive dialogue that might have been off-putting in a lesser author's hands. Dominic's development takes place among moments of overwhelming bleakness and his experiences with the redemptive powers of human connection and art. The balance between these is precarious and realistic, and the span of years encompassed by the book flies by. The novel is by turns reminiscent of classic bildungsromans such as the Billy Elliott film, Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and Stephen King's IT, yet it retains a distinctive heart and voice of its own. While instances of violence are eventually tempered, it is best suited for mature readers. An absolute must-have.-Erinn Black Salge, Saint Peter's Prep, Jersey City, NJ

    Copyright 2015 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from December 15, 2014
    Dominic Hall is "a caulker's son, a tank cleaner's grandson" in the river town of Tyneside in northern England...but the boy dreams of writing.It's in Dom's blood to work in and "breathe the bliddy fumes" of the hellish shipyards. Is it pure snobbery, then, to aspire to the exalted, creative life his artist friend, Holly Stroud, lives with her fancy, wine-drinking father? Dom is torn. Maybe he wants to be more like Vincent McAlinden, the black-souled bully who initiates him into "scary ecstatic afternoons" of killing helpless creatures for fun, thieving and brutal fighting that ends in kissing. Is Dom a "tender innocent" or a "brute"? Is God a sentimental comfort, as he is to the silent tramp, Jack Law, or is he a cruel joke, a "creamy shining bloody body" suspended lifelessly by thin cords at the local Catholic church? As they grow up from bairns, Dom and Holly are tightrope walkers, literally and figuratively, trying to find their balance, hoping the inevitable falls aren't too painful. The award-winning Almond poetically plumbs the depths of his 1950s and '60s childhood to explore themes of violence, war, God, creativity, beauty, death, art, the soul, our animal selves, whether we ever grow up or can really know each other...in short, life. (Fiction. 14 & up)

    COPYRIGHT(2014) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from February 15, 2015
    Grades 8-12 *Starred Review* Throughout his storied literary life, David Almond has continuously returned to familiar themes and turned his inquiring eye to the pull of opposites. Delving more widely than the familiar question of how good stacks up against evil, he also is curious about choice versus chance, the razor-thin difference between angels and devils, and whether God is watching us, helping us, or baiting us. The Tightrope Walkers is no different, in that all these notes are hit upon. But while many of his books, beginning with Skellig (1999), are netted in magic realism, this coming-of-age story, rooted in reality, makes the stark choices its characters face ones that will be readily recognized by readers. Dominic Hall is born in a hovel on the banks of the Tyne, but thanks to a postwar building boom, his family moves to a council estate, a new community that throws together people who, in previous times, might not have known one another at all. Mr. Hall is shipbuilder, doing the gritty, filthy work of soldering and fitting. Next door lives the Stroud family. The mother is not seen, only heard, singing odd songs; the father works in the shipyards as well but in an office, crisply drawing plans. Their daughter, Holly, is a wonderartistic, fearless, a faithful friend to Dominic, and the crucible for his hopes, dreams, and writings. Into the children's Eden of art and tightrope walkinga hobby with which they become strangely enamoredslithers Vincent McAlinden, a bottom-of-the-barrel punk who often successfully hides his humanity. Yet Holly sees enough in him to paint his portrait again and again over the years, while Dom, as an early teen, is drawn to him like steel to a magnet. Vincent grooms and shapes Dom until they are shooting small animals together, kissing each other, and literally pissing on Dom's future when they break into the house of Dom's mother's employer, who has always supported his endeavors. Vincent is the story's malevolent throughline, just as the tightropethe one project Mr. Hall and Mr. Stroud have ever collaborated onis the symbol for the possibilities life may offer Dom and Holly. And just like life, the story doesn't go the way you think it will. Some books stand out for their characters, others for their sense of place, and some for their stories and themes. Almond has a facility for all those elements. The two most sharply drawn characters here are Vincent, as polluted as the Tyne but a force of nature nonetheless, and, rather surprisingly, Mr. Hall. He has spent his life at the bottom, fought a war with hopes of shaping a better world for his son, and labors mightily so his family can have more. At the same time, he sees his son as soft, is baffled by Dom's writing talents, and resents the chances they offer. Sometimes readers see this through as casual a movement as the flick of a cigarette ash. Vincent, too, is well aware of Dom's abilities but less conflicted about what they mean. Dom is the personification of the unfairness of life, and there is only one thing to do about that: corrupt him. Vincent is one of those Heathcliff type of characters whose dark soul has tears through which goodness might slip, and yet events conspire to push away hope and happiness. Readers are left to wonder whether the cause is nature, nurture, or something more primeval and malevolent. The powerful ending brings Dom, Holly, and Vincent, now older teens, together once more in an epic scene of horror that is later followed by redemption. Can goodness come from evil? Does a flower grow out of the muck? The Tightrope Walkers was published in the UK as an adult book, and it could very well fit under a new adult...

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