Wow. I haven’t read this book since middle school and I cannot believe how much I love it and how much it affects me emotionally. Tears of a Tiger is the first book in the Hazelwood High Trilogy and it comes right out the gate with a bang and it’s unforgettable. It is also Sharon M. Draper’s debut novel.
*Summary: Andrew Jackson was driving the car that crashed one night after a game, killing Robert Washington, his best friend and the captain of the Hazelwood High Tigers. It was late, and they’d been drinking, and now, two months later, Andy can’t stop blaming himself. As he turns away from family, friends, and even his girlfriend, he finds he’s losing the most precious thing of all– his ability to face the future.
Characters. There isn’t a large cast of characters in this novel, as the novel itself is short, however you are able to get enough of them to understand their relationships with Andy to an extent.
Andrew “Andy” Jackson. He is the main protagonist of the novel, he’s seventeen and a basketball player. He is described by other characters to be lively, outgoing, a bit of class clown, charasmatic and he is absolutely devastated by the death of his best friend. He does a complete 180, until he manages to pull a mask on in front of everyone except the reader and his girlfriend Keisha. His character is so emotionally impactful that’s impossible not to feel for him.
Keisha Montgomery. She is Andy’s girlfriend and she is portrayed so strongly in this novel, she hasn’t been dating Andy long but she is so loyal to him, so supportive that even though she has a hard time dealing with his depression she remains because she cares for him and knows he needs her. It’s so prevalent in every conversation they have, in her diary entries and I do think she could possibly split readers’ feelings towards her. She was right in letting go because she couldn’t handle it anymore or she should have stayed with him because she was the only person who really saw him.
Andy’s Family. Andy’s father is pretty distant in his life and Andy often references that. His mother is a woman who seemed like she used to try and be supportive but she’s caught up in her own life that she often forgets her son. Lastly, Monty is the younger brother and their relationship is the strongest in the family. There is a great scene between the two that really shows the impact Andy has on his brother.
The other characters: Tyrone, Gerald, B.J, and Rhonda also have presences in the story. Tyrone and B.J were involved in the crash, they all tried to save Rob but failed and they were also affected but they found solace and peace in a relationship (Tyrone/Rhonda) and faith (B.J). Gerald was also a friend of theirs and he seems very similar to Andy, with a lot of his own problems at home but he deals with it in a different way than Andy which I think is a nice parallel especially as the second novel is Gerald’s story. The parallel is two young black boys who have dealt with tragedy take different paths in dealing with it. It’s quite amazing.
Writing Style. This novel is written so differently that it helps to enhance the story. Draper uses a plethora of ways to tell this story. There are diary entries from Keisha, clippings from the school paper, essays, poems, written letters, notes passed in class, and dialogue between characters. The most notable dialogue pieces are between Andy and his therapist and other characters. Each time a character writes something for class, or writes in a diary or a letter, the font style also changes to help individualize the characters so when the reader turns and sees the font, it’s possible to recognize who is “speaking” before their name is shown.
Emotional weight. Without spoiling, this book is so emotional and deals with real life emotions, especially for black teenagers. Each time Andy speaks to a person, another layer of his emotions is pushed aside for the reader to get closer and closer to him. As he speaks with his therapist, the readers get to understand him better, as the other characters write letters, or essays or talk about him in general, we get to see him through their eyes and we understand him more. There is a scene where Andy has a nightmare and that moment alone is powerful.
Timeless. Tears of a Tiger is one of those novels that the subject matter is timeless because people deal with death in various ways. The characters can be removed from this time period and placed in other ones, which is a big thing as the time frame is never actually stated. There are dates such as “November 9” etc but the year is never specified, which I’m sure was intentional. The book was published in 1994 and the language definitely can help date it as well as certain other things, no talk of cell phones etc but outside of those minor details, it’s easy to think this novel is set in present time.
The use of different fonts. What? But you just said this was neat, which is it, don’t get me wrong. The problem I have is that since the font is different for everyone, the girls have this really curly “handwriting” that makes it hard to see at times. Normally, this book is published as a tiny one, which prevents the words from being larger anyway. I like the fact that they’re there, I just would have liked them to be a bit more legible or larger.
The Dialogue Bits. Not the dialogue itself but the way it’s set up. The use is definitely unique and when it first starts out it’s easy to follow, but once more and more people begin to talk and get involved, the reader can no longer really follow who is speaking. A name didn’t need to beside the dialogue like a script, but when more people spoke with each other, there could have been more cues to let us know who is speaking. Especially since we know their voices on their own, but together it’s harder to distinguish.
Emotional. What?? Hahaha. This is more of precaution and something I remember thinking the first time I read it, it’s soooo heavy. It’s soon emotional which is also one of the major strengths of the novel but it’s also a big weakness because it’s so sad, it’s so emotional that even though Andy constantly tells people he’s “fine” the readers know otherwise and it’s personally hard to see light at the end of the tunnel here.
The Language. There isn’t any profanity, at least nothing bad but I think this may also have to do with the location, which I know is in the north, not sure where, and the time period. This may seem like a contradicting con but now that I’m older, the way the characters spoke is definitely something I paid more attention to this time around. There are a few times in the novel where the characters are saying slang that is soooo dated that it’s almost amusing, and some of the stuff they say makes you wonder if Ms. Draper was really in the mindset of teenagers or was actually being an adult writing teenagers, which I think some adult authors have a time with, as well as being a woman writing for a teenage boy.
Overall, I absolutely adore this novel. Tears of a Tiger was Sharon M. Draper’s first book and I think it’s obvious due to it’s the only book in the trilogy written the way it is, with the unique style but the writing is the weakest. Andy is obviously the standout character in the novel, as it is about him, Keisha is a prominent character and helps push Andy along, though may not be in the way she wants. The characters are all interesting and it’s easy to see why the others involved in the accident were able to move on in a healthy manner. It’s easy for the readers to get invested in Andy’s wellbeing even if they cannot identity with the tragedy or even the hardships and confusion of being a young black male. The negatives are there, with the way the characters speak, the hard to read fonts for certain characters’ written pieces, the lack of distinguishing who is speaking in dialogue pieces and the heaviness of the story. It may become a bit too much for some readers and may hit the nail a bit too hard on the head as well as becoming “preachy” but all in all, this debut novel creates a world that is easy to relate to especially for black teenagers.
Rating: 3.9 out of 5 stars.
*Summary is taken from back of novel.
Have you read Tears of a Tiger? What do you think of the novel? What is your favorite or the best emotionally driven novel you’ve read? Please respond in the comments below! Don’t forget to like this piece and follow!