Music For Tigers
Music For Tigers
“Don't worry about any bad notes,” he goes on. “It could be out-of-tune notes that attract Ellie, for all we know.”
“I hadn't thought of that,” I say.
He taps his nose. “I'm not just a pretty face with a beard, you know.”
“You also can't tell the difference,” I say. “You're tone deaf. Musical notes all sound the same to you.”
“Well yes,” he admits. “There's that too.”
I finish eating and gather up the recorder to take back to my cabin.
“Try not to get any human sounds on the tape, like coughing or sneezing. No talking obviously.” He stops. “Do you want an audience?” he asks.
“Definitely not,” I say. “But thanks anyway.”
I go to my cabin and settle down on the wooden chair. I place the recorder close by on the edge of the bed, and take my violin out of its case. I press the record button and then pick up my bow and raise the instrument to my chin.
As I begin to play I see something move in the corner of the cabin, near the top of the doorframe. A large creature with long hairy legs, but I don't scream.
“I guess it's going to rain again, huh?” I ask her.
The spider settles herself on the wooden beam.
I take a deep breath. “All right,” I tell her. “I guess you can stay this time.”
As I raise my bow, I can't help but smile to myself. Never in my wildest dreams when I left Toronto could I have imagined that I'd be recording a practice session in hopes of attracting an extinct marsupial called Ellie, with a huntsman spider for an audience.
I hardly recognize myself. And I like it.
Louisa's mother has sent her to Tasmania to spend the summer with her Uncle Rufus, someone Louisa's never met. For most middle school kids, it would be the best summer ever, but Louisa only wants to practice her violin so she can finally get into the Toronto Youth Orchestra back home; something she feels that her biologist parents can't and don't understand. She expects it to be a hot, boring summer spent running away from all kinds of scary Australian creatures, and, when she meets her eccentric uncle and the huntsman spiders in his house, she isn't proven wrong. He introduces her to their only neighbors, Mel and her son Colin, who run the Eco Lodge, the only place with Internet. Louisa gets to know Colin (and all his quirks) and finds out from Mel that Colin has autism. Mel sends Colin to stay with Rufus and Louisa for a couple of weeks since he and Louisa get along and Colin doesn't have many friends.
Louisa soon notices that things aren't all they seem, and, when Rufus' pet, Piggy, dies, she finds out that Piggy was one of the last of the pig-toed bandicoots, a species thought to be extinct. Rufus gives Louisa her great-grandmother Eleanor's journals to read so she can understand what kind of work he does. Through the journals, Louisa finds out that Eleanor befriended a Tasmanian tiger with her piano playing and nursed it back to health when she was a young girl. Eventually Eleanor released the tiger back into the wild and subsequently devoted herself to helping endangered species to thrive. Rufus tells Louisa he has continued to do Eleanor's work, and that there is still one Tasmanian tiger on Convict Rock which is located near their camp. Eleanor thought that the tigers should be left in peace without human interference to repopulate, and that is why the world thinks Tasmanian tigers are extinct. However, because the government plans to tear down Rufus' camp to build a bridge over the river, the tiger won't be able to stay there. Rufus hasn't been able to lure Ellie, the tiger, out to move her, but he thinks she is drawn to Louisa's violin (much like Eleanor and the first tiger). Rufus, Louisa and Colin devise a plan, using Louisa's violin, to move the tiger safely in with the other living tigers in another location. Louisa has to quickly get over her fears that have kept her from getting into the Youth Orchestra in order to save Ellie and reunite her with the other tigers, all of which makes for a much more interesting summer than she originally signed up for.
Music for Tigers seamlessly blends several themes together to create a unique story. The most obvious theme of wildlife conservation is beautifully executed with important messages that we, as humans, can often do more harm than good, even when we try to help. Eleanor's decision to leave the tigers out of the spotlight and let them naturally repopulate is something that doesn't come naturally to us but is an key part of helping endangered species. Kadarusman also includes the Aboriginal people of Tasmania in her writing. After Rufus, Louisa and Colin rescue Ellie, they give her to the Aboriginal Elders because they can help hide her. Additionally, in the beginning of the novel, there is an acknowledgement of the Tasmanian Aboriginal community as traditional owners and custodians of the land. The honesty and respect paid toward the Aboriginal community in the story is a lovely touch to a novel that is centred around animal conservation.
Another important theme in the novel is that of mental health and personal growth. Both Louisa and Colin are neurodivergent children who have to deal with real life implications of their mental health. Colin is an autistic character who doesn't have many friends after he and his best friend grew apart. Louisa accepts Colin for who he is and helps him get past his social anxiety by showing him how to read people's expressions. As for Louisa, she learns to overcome her performance anxiety in order to help save Ellie, and she also learns to open up more to new people and surroundings. Her character arc in the novel is quite well-done, with her slowly but surely learning that the Australian bush is actually beautiful and not as hostile as she originally thought, while simultaneously connecting with Colin and Rufus who she was quite closed off to at first. The interconnections of these two aspects of the novel are wound together to the point that one could not happen without the other. Louisa's growth doesn't stop when she leaves Tasmania either, as readers find out in the epilogue where she goes to her audition for the Youth Orchestra and uses calming techniques that her therapist has taught her.
Kadarusman's novel also provides an uncommon but insightful blending of science and art. Louisa feels at the beginning of the novel that her parents wish she was more interested in biology like them. She feels that they can't understand her passion for her music because the two things are polar opposites. However, she finds through Eleanor's journals that the two things can be used together for a very good purpose. Louisa learns that her music can be used along with her parents’ biology to help the animals she's come to love.
Michelle Kadarusman's, Music for Tigers is a fun, engaging read for middle grade children, one that will appeal to many different readers because of its diverse themes and subjects. Louisa's relationships with Colin and Rufus are delightful to read, and the novel covers important topics with delicacy and grace. Music for Tigers is a heartwarming story of personal growth and friendship that will draw readers in with its charm.
Deanna Feuer is an English Literature graduate from the University of the Fraser Valley. She lives in Langley British Columbia.