Heart of a Shepherd

by Rosanne Parry
ages: 10+
First sentence: “Grandpa frowns when he plays chess, like he does when he prays.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!

There are obviously powerful books, books about Problems or Trials or Oppression, books where the main character has something obviously Moving happen to them. And then there are books that are quietly powerful. Ones that seem simple on the surface, but then work their way under your skin and move you in ways that you totally didn’t expect.

This is one of those books.

Twelve-year-old Ignatius — Brother to everyone, since he has four older brothers — part of the east Oregon ranching community. Even though he’s small, and he doesn’t like killing the animals, he — along with his father, grandfather and brothers — does the work: take the cows to the mountains, raise and shear the sheep, mend and tend the ranch. Except, all the brothers are away, at school, in the army. And then, when Brother’s dad’s National Guard gets called up for a fourteen-month tour in Iraq, Brother is left with Grandpa to manage the the ranch by themselves. It’s up to him to prove that he can be what he doesn’t think he can: a rancher. Except, over the course of the year that his father is gone, that’s not what Brother finds out, about himself or his family.

It’s a deeply religious book — Brother and his family are Irish Catholics, though his Grandpa is a Quaker — but not overly preachy. There’s a lot of references to God and His will, but it’s a quiet religion, one that’s open, accepting and fluid in ways that are unexpected and ultimately beautiful and movie. It’s a harsh reality, east Oregon ranching life, but Parry writes about it in ways that will keep you thinking about Brother and his family long after you close the book.

(Just for the record: because this is a Cybils nominee, I’ve been asked to make sure y’all know this is my opinion only, and not that of the panel.)

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