Young Joe Maloney does not fit. He stutters, is constantly bullied by the children of the bleak suburbanan town of Helmouth and cannot seem to stop truanting. Alone he wanders the wastelands around the nearby motorway, he sees things others do not and though his mother, raising him alone, his carney father gone before he was born, she worries for him.
Then one night he dreams of a tiger, Almond's description weaving its rank smell and the feel of its fur and awesome power thorough our minds. He wakes to find Hackenschmidt's Circus in town on its final tour, but there are no tigers at this circus. There are no animals of any kind, only a threadbare sky blue tent, gaudy paintings washed out and acts well past their prime. Joe is drawn to trapeze artist Corinna, a parentless girl his own age, and she takes his hand and guides him through his part in a lyrical wake for the dying circus.
An achingly beautiful story about difference, and how sometimes when you are different it is not you who are 'wrong', but the world itself. Joe rises beyond the stunted grey life of the aptly named Helmouth and enters into a world of colour and imagination. As always with Almond, we cannot be sure of what we witness, it is ineffable, but of the highest value.