Review of “Tyger Tyger” by Kersten Hamilton

Teagan Wylltson (“Tea”), age 16, believes she is from a normal (if whimsical), loving family of four. Her father is a librarian and her mother writes and illustrates books for children. Her younger brother Aiden can sing beautifully any song he has ever heard. He also has an uncanny sense of direction; Tea explains, “His brain came bundled with an MP3 player and GPS.” Tea works in an animal research lab, and hopes to go to vet school one day.

As the story begins, Tea’s best friend Abby tells her she dreamed that the goblins in the paintings done by Tea’s mom came alive and tried to kill Tea. Tea laughs it off, until her 17-year-old step-cousin Finn MacCumhaill comes to live with them. He does not arrive alone. Finn is the latest in the line of MacCumhaills – Irish travelers, or tinkerers, who were cursed by Fear Doirich, the goblin god, to be plagued by goblins for all eternity.

[The original Fionn mac Cumhaill is called Finn McCool in English. Finn McCool is the alleged builder of the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland, and is featured in much Irish literature, including James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. In fact, the very title is thought to be a portmanteau for “Finn again is awake,” referring to McCool’s eventual awakening (as foretold) to defend Ireland.]

Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland is made out of about 40,000 interlocked basalt columns.

Suddenly Tea starts seeing bizarre creatures all around her. To make matters worse, she feels an incredible attraction to Finn that she knows he feels too. Then her parents are attacked, and Tea, Aiden and Finn decide they must go after them and confront the dreaded Fear Doirich himself.

Discussion: Irish mythology is incredibly complicated, and I think Hamilton does a great job of simplifying the parts of it she tackles, by having the adult characters tell stories to the younger ones, in order to explain their dilemma. She also does a very nice job of making the integrated mythology not seem stupid. In part, she accomplishes this by having her supernatural creatures evolved: a goblin is as likely to look like “an Abercrombie & Fitch model” as a green-skinned witch or deranged cat. She also has Tea’s father, faced with his scientifically-minded children, often quoting the Shakespeare line, “there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” with Tea giving this sentiment due epistemological consideration. (Truth, she eventually discovers, comes in many guises.) In addition, Hamilton insinuates the fantasy elements into such a normal framework as to make them seem like part of the landscape that it just so happens only some of us can see.

Most importantly for the reader, the author makes it clear that the magic in the story carries a greater meaning than just exercising the imagination; it is all part of how we can derive insights into human nature for those open to the connection. Goblinhood, for example, is identified as a metaphor for the dark potential in each of us. It is not inevitable, however; we have a choice whether to “stumble down that road, pretending you can’t help it” or to walk down a better path, and fight to be better.

The biggest appeal of this book for me, however, on account of my being stuck at the developmental level of a teenager, is the relationship between Finn and Tea. Finn is not only a sexy, forthright and electrifying suitor, but he does it all with a brogue. He delivers some of the most romantic lines ever. And as icing on the cake, Finn also has a wonderful rapport with Tea’s little brother, making him all the more attractive. He is definitely one of the best YA boyfriend-types out there.

I also really like the prayers Mrs. Wylltson recites with her children at night:

“I do not ask for a path with no trouble or regret. I ask instead for a friend who’ll walk with me down any path.

I do not ask never to feel pain. I ask instead for courage, even when hope can scarce shine through.

And one more thing I ask: That in every hour of joy or pain, I feel the Creator close by my side. This is my truest prayer for myself and for all I love, now and forever. Amen.”

(Tea’s friend Abby asks: “Why don’t you pray like normal people: No pain, God. Lots of money. Thanks.” Teagan answers, “Because we’re Irish. Mom says things never go well for the Irish for very long. She says we’ve got to be realistic.”)

The only negative I would bring up is that the book begins with a very entertaining section on Tea’s work with primates, but that whole story line is dropped.

Evaluation: Lots to like about this book, which is book one of a trilogy. Yes! Of course it is!

Rating: 4/5

Published in hardcover by Clarion Books and in paperback by Graphia, both imprints of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2010


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24 Responses to Review of “Tyger Tyger” by Kersten Hamilton

  1. Sandy says:

    It sounds bizarre and magical! And a lot of fun!

  2. Jenny says:

    Wow this sounds very impactful and full of great metaphors. I read about tinkerers once (The Outside Boy) but have not heart of the goblin type lol.

  3. Amanda says:

    I got this back at BEA in 2010 but couldn’t get into it, so I ended up giving it to another reader that summer in a giveaway. I can’t remember who got it, but I hope they liked it as much as you!

  4. Word Lily says:

    I really enjoyed this one too!

  5. Margot says:

    I like the prayer you quoted. It’s so lyrical and deep. It that’s a sample of the rest of the book, I see why you rated it high.

  6. zibilee says:

    Goblins must be added to the list of supernatural things that I have never read about, and your review has really piqued my interest. I need to see if I can find this book and give it a try, as, being Irish, I have a soft spot for Irish mythology. This does indeed sound like a good one, and I loved reading your thoughts on it!

  7. Oh trilogy Oh trilogy…(I’m singing it in my head to the tune of Oh Christmas tree). Seriously, can no one just write one book any more?

  8. Supernatural just doesn’t work for me though I do love Irish mythology so I may have to give this series a peek.

  9. Edgar says:

    The photo of the 40,000 interlocked basalt columns and the writer’s imagination are enough to heighten my interest for the Tyger Tyger. I will look it up.

  10. Trisha says:

    I think I still have this one somewhere on the shelves. I do love Irish mythology, so I’ll have to pick it up at some point.

  11. Julie P. says:

    Does anyone write just one YA book anymore?

  12. Thank you for the wonderful review, rhapsody–I’m glad you liked Tyger Tyger! And I hope you don’t mind my stopping by. And I have an answer for the posters who ask “why a trilogy?” Two answers, actually!

    The first is: I love my characters. A lot. I want a HUGE story for them, where I can take my time and work in delicious complexities. But as a new author to the genre, it is next to impossible to sell a book of that length. It is too risky for the publisher.

    Which brings me to reason number two: it can take a long time for readers to find a new author. With one book, you have your release date and if for any reason—a hugely anticipated new title from an established author, a news story that distracts the audience, or simply not catching the attention of the right reviewers —your book is overlooked…well, it can be a career ender. Publishers take the sales numbers of your last book into account before they offer on a new one.

    With a trilogy, you have at least three years for readers to find you. That makes it less of a risk for the publisher and gives new authors a better chance of success.

    I hope that explains why there are so many trilogies in this crowded market….

    🙂 Kersten Hamilton

  13. I adored this book — it made my top ten of 2010! I think Tea is a fantastic YA heroine (even though I found Finn a bit flat). The sequel is great — darker and edgier!

  14. Darlene says:

    This book sounds really familiar to me which makes me wonder if I don’t have it around here somewhere. It sounds so good! That Giant Causeway is so cool!

  15. softdrink says:

    It must be dinnertime, because I read biscuit columns instead of basalt columns.

    Also. Trilogy? Ack!

  16. Jenners says:

    I’ve been to the Giant’s Causeway and walked on it and everything! It is really really cool!! I got all excited when I saw that! I should check this book out just becuase of that because Lord knows, I’m not going to attempt James Joyce!

  17. BermudaOnion says:

    Hm, I love your enthusiasm for this book but I’m just not sure it’s for me.

  18. Jenny says:

    This sounds wonderful! I’m kind of in the market for a new awesome YA book that is the first of a trilogy I DO NOT CARE I LIKE TRILOGIES. I’m not usually a fan of Irish folklore-type books, but this sounds great.

  19. Alyce says:

    Well I would certainly need it simple and explained well because facts about any culture’s mythology seem to slide right out of my brain like jello. I’ve been enjoying the first Percy Jackson and the Olympians book because things are explained at a kid’s level and that’s what I need. 🙂 Love the image of the Giant’s Causeway – it would be so neat to see in person!

  20. Care says:

    Wow – I’m flooded with memories of my neighbor who used to say (often) that because she was Irish, she just wouldn’t dare ever expect the best.

  21. I absolutely love the sound of it but I’m getting a little burned out on trilogies!!

  22. Belle Wong says:

    This one sounds lovely! It’s definitely going on my TBR list.

  23. Nymeth says:

    Your comment about being stuck at the developmental level of a teenager really made me laugh. I’ve felt that way about myself too 😛 This sounds like a book I’d really enjoy. And I SO want to visit the Giant’s Causeway one day.

  24. stacybuckeye says:

    I really like that prayer (and the Irish reason behind it :))

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