Heart of a Shepherd by Rosanne Parry.
Brother is the youngest of five brothers and the last one at home with his father and grandparents at the ranch. The work is hard and though Brother tries to be the best rancher just like his father, he wonders if this is the right place for him. With the Iraq War heating up, his father’s reserve unit is called to duty for 14 months. Now Brother is helping his grandparents run the ranch after promising his father that he would make sure when he returned nothing had changed. But things do change and along the way, Brother finds his own path in life.
I’m not sure I can do this book justice in my brief review. It intertwines heavy subjects, but manages to keep them all balanced and never succumbs to heavy handed tactics. Parry creates a family of soldiers with a pacifist grandfather who never questions his son’s duty and his grandson’s choices. She creates a strong grandmother, the central female figure in the story, who can hold her own with any man without losing her femininity. She has five brothers who act like brothers do, who fight, ignore, trample, but also support one another without question. This is a book about duty, honor, and bravery. It is a book that celebrates all of us, no matter what side we are on, where we are from, what we are doing.
I must also mention the incredible handling of religion in the novel. The family has a Quaker grandfather while the rest of them are Catholic. This is a fact, not a point of contention. Faith is deftly woven into the dialogue, the thought process, the lives of these characters. Faith in all forms, faith as a simple part of life. It creates a book that is deeply spiritual, mixing duty, honor and faith.
I consider this a true contender for the Newbery medal. It may not be a book that flies off of the shelves. The cover is lovely and just right for the tone of the book, but this quiet, strong book may have trouble competing with the covers of louder, gorier, and more strident books. This is the sort of book that will be read in classrooms, shared with friends, loved by all ages, and cherished by many. It is appropriate for many ages. I would read it to older elementary children, share it with adults, and recommend it to everyone.