Thursday, November 1, 2007

Review: Shiloh

Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Summary: 11-year-old Marty Preston lives in the West Virginia hills with his parents and 2 sisters. He's pretty content to roam the hills along or hang out with his couple of friends. But one day a scared Beagle puppy follows him home and he sure looks scared. When Shiloh (as Marty's named him) keeps appearing, Marty decides not to let him go back to his owner, mean Judd Travers. Marty is sure he mistreats his hunting dogs and that's why Shiloh ran away. Marty hides the dog, but can't stand lying to his parents. When Shiloh is badly injured and word gets out that the Prestons have him, Marty gathers up his courage to keep Shiloh but discovers it's sometimes hard to separate right from wrong.

My thoughts: I spent the first third of the book sure I'd read it before and I'm still not sure whether I had or not. But it could be I just know about it because it's now a classic or that it's such an archetypal boy-and-his-dog story. I'm not a big dog-story person, but I can certainly see why it's so well-loved, as a dog is often at the top of a kid's list of desires. And it is a good kids' story, I can see why it won the Newbery.

The one thing that bugged me was that I felt (rather like Inkheart) that it should have been set in the past. The book was written in 1991, but the rural setting and dialect, in addition to the fact that there's no money to be had to keep a dog (even though Mr. Preston is a postman - hello, government employee! - and they seem to have a fair bit of land), really made it feel like it should have been set during the 30's or 40's. Now, maybe it's an accurate contemporary West Virginia dialect and I know nothing about the hardships of small, rural counties, but I found it quite jarring to read that the Prestons had a TV (yet couldn't afford a phone?) and Marty's friend David had a computer.

I was impressed that the book really showed that right and wrong can be shades of grey. Often in kids' books there's the one very clear right thing to do. But while Marty knows that saving Shiloh is right, he also has to deal with lying and with the fact that he's stolen another man's property. Plus in order to save Shiloh once and for all, he has to stand by while another animal is hurt. I thought the final words really summed it all up, "...I'm thinking how nothing is as simple as you guess - not right or wrong, not Judd Travers, not even me or this dog I got here. But the good part is I saved Shiloh and opened my eyes some. Now that ain't bad for eleven." I'd say it's not bad for people 2, 3, or 4 times 11, Marty! :-)

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