Heart of a Shepherd by Rosanne Parry. Grades 4-8. Random House Books for Young Readers, January 2009. Copy from my local library.
(This is a 2009 Cybils nominee and this review reflects only my personal opinion of the book, not necessarily the opinion of the panel!)
Ignatius is known as Brother to everyone in his small Oregon ranching town because he has four boisterous older brothers. Though he's the youngest in the family, he's the only son left at home when his dad gets called from the army reserves to fight in Iraq. It's up to Brother and his grandparents to run the ranch until Dad comes back. If he comes back. The trouble is that Brother has never felt the same passion for ranching that his dad and grandpa have. He's sensitive to the death of animals, though he knows that's part of ranch life.
In a series of vignettes Rosanne Parry takes us through a year on this Oregon ranch as Brother tries to deal with the absence of his father and tries to find his way in the world.
It's a quietly powerful book. Though the kids play at war games and most of them assume that they'll enter a branch of the military eventually, Brother has never felt comfortable with that. He has no real concept of life outside ranching or the military, but he's still searching.
One thing I really liked about the book was its engrossing sense of place. Rosanne Parry paints a perfect picture of life on a rural Oregon ranch in all its harsh beauty. She also paints a picture of a family members scattered to the winds, but still caring about each other a great deal.
I'm sitting here trying to think of who I would hand this book to. I wouldn't say it's touchy-feely, but it's about a boy dealing with his emotions. I might try it on fans of Bridge to Terabithia, Bird Lake Moon, or When the Whistle Blows.
Read more reviews at Kids Lit, Semicolon, Jen Robinson's Book Page, and Shelf Elf. Read author interviews at Cynsations and Authors Unleashed.