Tears of a Tiger is a gripping novel that will mesmerize students with its relatable characters and honest portrayal of teenage angst and depression. Students will likely find interest in discussing the hardship and pain expressed in the novel and may even want to read the rest of the books within the trilogy on their own. Although death is a big focus of this novel, the many other themes, including parent-child relationships, responsibility, and emotional health not only provide for great literary lessons, but also serve to promote discussion about these real-life issues within a susceptible classroom of preteens or teenagers.

Draper conveys the high school tragedy through unique, epistolary techniques, interspersing letters, newspaper articles, diary entries, and homework assignments throughout the novel. As Tears of a Tiger is an epistolary novel, its inclusion in a classroom syllabus offers students a break from the traditional format of a novel and exposure to alternative forms of literary expression.


Key Facts:

  • Length: 180 pages
  • Lexile Measure: 700
  • Publication Date: 1996
  • Recommended Grade Band: 9 – 10

The book begins with the tragic death of a high school basketball star. His death triggers a story of grief and sadness depicted in various forms, such as through spoken conversation, journal entries, and homework assignments. The novel grasps the hearts and minds of readers as Andy, the main character, and other related characters experience the pain, guilt, and consequences of a drunk-driving accident.

Your students will love:

  • The many interesting forms through which the story is told.
  • The relatable themes and characters.

Students may have problems with:

  • The incidences of death and depression.
  • Discussion of more recent racial issues.

Key Elements and Techniques

  • Dramatic Irony
  • Emotional Tones
  • Epistolary Novel
  • Flashback
  • Imagery
  • Multiple Narrators
  • Symbolism

Themes and Motifs

Depression — The novel portrays a regression into severe depression and explains the sad truth that many teens receiving some form of help still have difficulty pulling themselves out of a mental illness. As shown in Tears of a Tiger, many times, this difficulty is due to lack of communication with family and friends as well as a lack of action from those who are aware of their unhappiness.

Related Works:

Parent-Teen Relationships — Whether the teenagers feel neglected or troubled by their parents, every family relationship within the novel has meaning. Specifically, Draper explores the dynamics and conflicts within African American families of that generation.

Related Works:

Guilt and Blame — The book explores the different reactions to and levels of guilt. After the accident, some characters feel heavier guilt than others; some of them are able to overcome their guilt, while others cannot live with it.

Related Works:


  • American Library Association/Coretta Scott King Genesis Award (1995)
  • American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults (1995)

External Resources

More Teacher's Guides to Literature:

See all our Teacher's Guides to Literature here.