Tyger Tales by Jess Mowry: all rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work by any means except short excerpts for use in reviews. The Kindle edition, to date, is the only legally authorized ebook or web-accessible edition of this work. If you find this book being offered anywhere else, either as a download or to be read online, it is there without the author's permission and in violation of copyright law.
Kids run away for many reasons; abusive parents, a bad environment, poverty, lack of love or respect at home. A few run away for adventure or hope to become movie stars. Others just hope to find a better life, but most discover that life on the street is cold, hungry and lonely. It's also a jungle of predators. The smarter -- or luckier -- kids usually find that no matter how bad things were at home, at least they had a bed to sleep in and a chance to really escape by going to school and preparing themselves to win life's battles. Most runaways are heard from again, days, weeks, even months later. But a few kids just disappear, and only their faces on milk cartons, or images on "missing" websites prove they once existed.
Collin Thatcher, thirteen-years-old in Oakland, California, has a reason for running away: his self-righteous Aunt Libby, a part-time social worker and full-time fool, wants to put him in a boot camp for being "lazy and obese," take him away from his "dreamer" father, who was wounded in the Army, given a wheelchair along with a medal, and survives by writing books for kids. With the help of his best friend Ralpa, whose family fled political oppression in Tibet, Collin hopes to defeat his aunt's schemes. He and Ralpa are unexpectedly aided by a homeless boy named Tyger who survives by fishing in a battered old boat. Tyger introduces Collin to the Asian innercity, a vastly different 'hood from Collin's, yet also plagued by gangs and violence. Collin's plan seems to be working. But then, he and his friends are captured by men who use kids for actors in "films about kids, but not for kids." The boys are also forced to model for comic books and VR games. Collin, Ralpa and Tyger must fight their way out of a dirty cartoon prison, and also free the other kids.
In his young adult novel, Tyger Tales, Jess Mowry makes use of the classic "parallel world" device, although his is no bucolic hundred acre wood in any classical sense. As usual, his world is dystopian, involving society's misfits and cast-offs in a reeking, dangerous, squalid wasteland. Mowry is astute, however, in his choice of settings, if not brilliant for his ability to locate his para-world just beyond the gaze of "civilized" Americans. He knows that only adults are concerned with five star dining and accommodations, and that kids are essentially indifferent to dirt and squalor, especially when "more" comes at the cost of freedom; children, in their own minds, are equal to, if not brighter than adults.
Tyger Tales derives its title from the fictitious comic book series described in the novel, notable most for its vivid cover art depicting superhero characters, in particular, that of a child named Tyger. In Mowry's novel, Tyger steps from the cover of the comic book series -- both literally and figuratively -- to join two friends, Collin Thatcher, a smart but rebellious black teen from Oakland CA, and Ralpa, an erudite and insightful Tibetan boy, who helps run an inner city grocery store in Collin's neighborhood. Collin, the clear protagonist, is harangued by an incessant aunt, who wants to remove him from the custody of his sensible father, a noble and admirable character, who must himself bear her onslaught from the confines of an old fashioned, arm-powered wheelchair. He, as a writer, seems to represent the status of all writers in some sense, bound as he is to a chair, crippled in a physical world where he is more active cerebrally than physically. Adults, even parents, Mowry is saying, are as helpless as anyone to intervene, and it is the individual who must rescue themselves. In this sense, God may indeed be dead, particularly for those trapped by circumstance or within their own skin.
The book is, for that matter, filled with symbolism, particularly in the character depictions. Tyger, a frail, pre-pubescent Asian boy of androgenous (or feline) make up who represents his namesake, quick with a knife (claws) and as uncontainable as a Burmese tiger. Collin, the panther, is dark and brooding, prowling the shadows of polite society, while at the same time conspicuous and feared for his appearance alone. The round belly motif, even in those otherwise fit and muscular characters, is familiar in Mowry's works, and these Buddha-esque characters of his seem to represent those who "eat" the world's flotsam and attain wisdom in the process, just as Tyger scurries beneath society, collecting its lost screws and loose change.
Faced with his aunt's relentlessness, coupled to his father's helplessness, Collin runs away for a seafaring, vagabond existence with Tyger, who is himself an exile, living alone on his indomitable moxie. Ultimately, Collin, along with Ralpa, becomes enmeshed in the underground world of porn and exploitation, and must himself escape from the cover of Tyger Tales. I like Mowry's method of character development in all, but found myself drawn mostly to the mysterious little Tyger, despite the fact that the story's conflict blossoms from Collin and his family situation, and, based on the book's title, we should assume that was Mowry's intent. As well, the story is filled with vivid descriptions of time and place, vivid enough that I, one who might easily be depicted as one of the white faces seeing-but-not-seeing a story like this unfold, find myself mesmerized by the clear fact that we all watch the same sunrises and sunsets, and that if God is dead for even a single child, then he is dead for everyone.
I recommend this book for its rich use of language and symbolism, and as one that appeals to the primal instincts of children, boys in particular, of all ages and wherever they exist.
© 2010 Mark Dennis: author of Song For A Summer Night
In Tyger Tales by Jess Mowry we meet Collin Thatcher, a 13-year-old African-American boy who lives in West Oakland, Cali. Some people might call him a computer geek or a fantasy gamer. His Aunt Libby, a 4th grade teacher and part-time social-worker, calls him "obese and lazy" and thinks he is rotting his mind in cyberspace instead of "going out to play" in the hood where kids get shot in the park. She wants to take Collin away from his dad, who is confined to a wheelchair because his legs were paralyzed when he was commanding a tank in a war on terror. Collin's dad is a struggling writer who has just sold a book for black kids. But Aunt Libby is not impressed. She wants to put Collin in a "healthy boot camp." Collin's best friend is a Tibetan boy named Ralpa whose family escaped from Chinese-rulled Tibet. They now pass as Korean people and run a small market. Collin goes to tell Ralpa about his problems. Then a small Asian boy named Tyger comes into the store. He is from the country that used to be called Burma. He looks just like a kid on the cover of an Asian comic book called "Tyger Tales." It is funny that the cartoon boy's homies in the comic book look a lot like Collin and Ralpa. Tyger makes a plan to help Collin defeat his Aunt Libby by running away, which will make her look bad because she was the reason he did it. Collin lives with Tyger on an old boat in the Oakland Bay for about two weeks and helps Tyger fish, which is how Tyger makes money. Things look good. Aunt Libby has given up on her plans to take Collin away from his dad. Collin will go home, and Tyger will come to live with him. But on the last night, Collin, Tyger and Ralpa are caught by some men! They are drugged, locked in the back of a van, and taken to Chinatown in San Francisco. These men make movies "about kids, but not for kids." They keep their "actors" locked in a basement and make them work long hours in their movies. If the kids behave themselves and do what they are told they might get rewarded with Happy Meals. If they don't behave they might get "put to sleep." Collin, Ralpa and Tyger have to fight their way out of this dirty cartoon prison and also free the other kids who are trapped there.
There are many things going on in this book. You learn a lot about why you should be careful on the internet, and what might happen to some kids who just disappear and are never heard from again. You also learn about Asian gang life. But the book is really an adventure story. Even though some of the subjects it deals with are shocking there are funny parts too. There is loyalty and friendship that crosses all color lines. It is also a story about learning how to solve your own problems.
© 2009 Rowfy: A Reader