Author Gillian Cross is no stranger to writing prize-winning fiction novels for teenage readers. With her latest novel, Tightrope, she has come up with another sharply observed, concisely written thriller that easily matches the superb high standards set by previous works, Wolf and The Great Elephant Chase.
Combining viewpoints from the book's major and minor characters, Cross enlivens a complex tale set amidst an urban community controlled by an old-fashioned gangster. With tell-tale skill and precision, the author gets deep under the skin of Ashley--the teenage protagonist who falls victim to both a stalker and the powerful, community bully. Revolting against the restraints placed on her by her mother's acute illness, it is understandable why Ashley feels the need for her alternative existence as Cindy, a graffiti painter. Unfortunately, her imaginative night-time work is not as invisible as she would like to think.
Eddie Beale, ringmaster of his own local circle of dubious cronies, takes a shine to Ashley's artistic talents. He invites her into his underworld and provides her mother with the care she so desperately needs. Ashley repays Eddie's help by entertaining him with athletic circus tricks. It's only when she calls on him directly to help her deal with a threatening stalker that Ashley realises that she's now too involved and too indebted to this equally deadly character.
Tightrope is a classy piece of writing that is difficult to put down. The characters and plot draw you in and the thrilling climax delivers everything the rest of the book promises. It's Gillian Cross at her best. (Age 11 and over) --John McLay