Friday, September 3, 2010

Kids, Animals, and the Effects of War

I just finished reading MOCKINGJAY, the final book of the HUNGER GAMES trilogy. While the theme of this last book *Minor Spoiler Alert* ends up being not so much about the much debated love story, but the devastating effects of war on human beings - I was not genuinely shaken to my core by anything in this over-the-top story. Don't get me wrong - the whole series was a page turner, and the writing excellent, but I didn't, in fact, get teary-eyed except for one scene near the very end involving a scraggly cat. When I finished, I realized what I needed was some good realistic fiction to actually make me feel again.

I want to share with you some great contemporary fiction I've recently read, written with ranching and animals and the outdoors as a backdrop. All of these novels have youthful characters struggling with the effects of a family member in the military. They are not war stories, but they are coming of age stories that pack an emotional punch, because we can truly identify with the characters and situations.

HEART OF A SHEPHERD, by Rosanne Parry
Random House/2009

This lovely little book evokes the spirit of a ranching family, as 12-year-old Ignatius (known as "Brother") dives into the enormous task of keeping the ranch running with just his grandfather, while his older brothers are gone and his father's reserve unit is called up to active duty in Iraq. With details about horses, lambs, calving and the stark beauty of eastern Oregon as a backdrop, this is very moving story about a boy finding his true path in life. I was quite touched, and you will be, too.


Dial Books for Young Readers/ 2010

13-year-old Hannah Gale lives with her step-mom and her baby brother. Still reeling from her own mother's death, she anxiously awaits her dad's return from Iraq, while she lives, day by day, for the horses she befriends at a nearby stable. When her dad returns a different man than the one that left, and her family situation becomes unbearable, Hannah turns to horses for solace and comfort. This a book about healing, and Hannah learns that the power of horses to heal might also be of use to her dad, still suffering the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. Wonderful book for horse lovers and others. I loved it.

BULL RIDER, by Suzanne Morgan Williams
Margaret K. McElderry Books/ 2009

I'm in the middle of BULL RIDER right now, and it's great. 14-year-old Cam O'Mara would rather skateboard than ride bulls like his champion older brother Ben. But Ben comes back from Iraq with a brain injury, minus an arm, and unable to walk. With gritty details about his brother's long journey to recovery, as well as the thrill of a sitting on top of a monster bull breathing fire underneath him, and wondering if Cam will have the courage to nod for the chute to open, this book makes you feel like you're right there, and I know I'll stay up tonight and finish it.

I like to read all kinds of books. But realistic fiction, for me, is the thing that packs an emotional wallop. These three books may actually have as much to say about the effects of war on humans than an entire bestselling series. And when you add the outdoors, animals, horses - well, that just definitely makes them my kind of story. I hope you like them, too.


Vonna said...

These sound like some wonderful recommendations, Linda. I especially like the sound of Heart of a Shepherd. I'll have to look that one up.

Linda Benson said...

I think you'll love Heart of a Shepherd, Vonna.

And I finished Bull Rider last night. Great action story, which kept me intrigued until the very last page, along with the emotional interaction between the two brothers, as well as their friends.

I loved all of thse books :-)

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

Wow, these seem like wonderful reads, LInda. Thank you for highlighting them. Now, I just need a few more hours in each day to read more. : )