‘Music for Tigers’ is a girl’s journey to learn about family and animals

Abby McGanney Nolan

THE WASHINGTON POST – Imagine wanting to focus on a favourite pastime during your middle-school summer vacation, but instead you are sent 10,000 miles away from home.

At the start of Michelle Kadarusman’s Music for Tigers, Louisa has travelled from Toronto, Canada, to the Australian island of Tasmania. Getting out of the bus in the middle of the Tasmanian rainforest, she is happy to have her violin but nervous about her new situation.

Her mother grew up there at her family’s wilderness camp, but Louisa has never visited it and has never met the uncle with whom she will be staying.

She doesn’t want to be bitten by a poisonous snake or spider, either. Louisa narrates the story, conveying her feelings and concerns as she figures out her surroundings. Uncle Rufus seems gruff at first, but Louisa’s fascination with the lush rainforest – the birds’ songs, the giant bluish-green trees and other unusual sights, sounds and smells – helps her adjust to this temporary home.

The mystery behind her family’s long-time interest in Tasmania’s endangered wildlife also intrigues her.

Louisa soon finds a friend in Colin, who lives at a nearby ecotourist lodge run by his mother, Mel. Colin’s mother asks Louisa to be patient with Colin. He has trouble interacting with people because of autism spectrum disorder, but the mother’s request doesn’t seem necessary.

Louisa appreciates Colin’s companionship and skills, and she likes helping Colin understand which of his classmates to avoid: the mean ones.

In turn, Colin encourages Louisa to think about why she gets nervous in certain situations.

The violin Louisa has brought from Canada provides more than practice time for Louisa. While reading her great-grandmother’s journals from the 1940s, Louisa learns that songs might appeal to a Tasmanian animal species that has been run out of its habitat. With Colin, Mel and her uncle, Louisa tries to figure out how to save some of those animals.

Throughout Music for Tigers, Kadarusman provides interesting information about Tasmania’s Tarkine rainforest, its original human inhabitants and the variety of wildlife that has lived there, before and after European settlers destroyed a way of life. Absorbing what she can of this world, Louisa faces challenges and lets new experiences change her. As she said at one point, “I hardly recognise myself. And I like it.”