I first heard of Heart of a Shepherd by Rosanne Parry when I read Sherry’s review and knew it would be a story I’d enjoy. I borrowed the audiobook from the library and finally, finally, finally got around to listening to it. I listened in small segments of time over about a two-week period, but because it’s a quiet and simple story, the plot stayed with me despite my poor memory and the time lapse between listening episodes. This juvenile novel is the story of an Oregon ranching family comprised of grandparents, their son, and his five sons, all living under one roof (when they’re all at home, that is). Told from the point of view of the youngest son/grandson, Ignatius “Brother” Alderman, it is simply what happens to the family while the father is deployed in Iraq. Except for Brother, all the Aldermen young men are either away at boarding high school or college or forging their own career paths in the U.S. Army. Brother has big shoes to fill in helping his elderly grandparents keep the ranch going, and he is quite determined to meet the challenge. Although it is a quiet, gentle story, it also contains a fair amount of suspense and excitement because of the father’s deployment and the happenings of ranch life.
Aside from a emotionally stirring plot, another thing I like about this book is its gentle and respectful treatment of religion. Brother’s grandpa is a Quaker and his grandma is Catholic, and both of these faiths are treated with equal respect. It seems that too often Christianity is given short shrift, or worse, totally denigrated, in many contemporary stories. Parry does neither in this story; in fact, this family’s legacy of faith is its bedrock, and it plays a major role in the whole story, right up to the end. It’s also a coming-of-age story, with Brother right at that vulnerable, what-do-I-do-now age of twelve. I love how his father and his grandfather speak to him in such encouraging, confidence-building ways, even when he doubts himself and his ability to get the job done. They help him come into his God-given vocation by the end of the story, and this settling into his life’s purpose provides both a wonderful denouement and a testimony to the importance of a parent’s guidance and support.
This book is all the things I love in a story: a quiet and gentle coming-of-age story completely infused with the strength of faith and family. Only one thing makes it even better: a beautiful setting. Parry‘s description of the Oregon ranch and the surrounding mountains makes an already beautiful story that much lovelier.
Here are a few excerpts that I recorded because they encapsulate what I like so much about this story. These are random quotations that I’m just going to share without context. They’re lovely and good enough in their own right.
And then I got to thinking about the long line of soldiers that have marched away from this table, which is great if you’re the patriotic type, but it’s not so great if you’re the one waiting for your dad to come home.
What we need is a priest who grew up around here and wants to stay–who knows how people who live off the land pray.
Land shapes a man’s heart, too. And his aspirations. A man near the mountains learns to look up, and it calls his mind to God.
Sometimes choosing the right thing breaks your heart.
It’s like holding a handful of diamonds–Grandpa’s whole prayer life in books, that I can keep forever.
A week ago I would’ve been too nervous to pray out loud, but it is today, and I know the man I’m supposed to become.
I should probably say a word about the audiobook since that’s the way I experienced this story. Although I much prefer to read a book than to listen to one, Kirby Heyborne’s narration made this story a pleasure to listen to. His voice became Brother’s for me.
I give both the story and the audiobook a Highly Recommended. (Yearling, 2010)
I’m entering this review in this month’s Award Winning Books database link-up because of the many, many awards it received. The Award Winnings Book Challenge is not limited to international awards, and Heart of a Shepherd won a 2010 Rodda Award from the Church and Synagogue Library Association and a 2010 Oregon Spirit Award from the Oregon Council of Teachers of English. All of the accolades heaped upon this book are well deserved!