Even though I’ve been living in a big city for more than ten years now, I’m definitely a country girl at heart. That’s what growing up on a farm does to you. But that’s not the only reason why I’m a sucker for a great rural story. Most farm stories have the potential to offer all that a reader could want in a narrative: struggle, love, life, death, and of course, a few great animals along the way.
Rosanne Parry’s debut, Heart of a Shepherd, is as gorgeous as a wide open country vista, with mountains in the distance and clouds up above. You hardly know what to appreciate and soak up first, there’s so much beauty and depth to take in in this slim novel. I promise you’ll be daydreaming about these characters and the land they care about long after the story is over.
Brother is the youngest of five boys, and the four eldest have left the family ranch to go to school. When his father is shipped to Iraq with his reserve unit, Brother recognizes an opportunity to prove that he is just as good a rancher as his older siblings, in spite of the fact that he’s always seemed to be different from his brothers in his work around the farm. He’s the one who gets emotional when one of the animals gets injured or sick, whereas his brothers just get on with the job of working the ranch. Brother decides to try not to let his heart get in the way of doing all the work that must be done to keep the ranch going just as smoothly as when his father is around. So Brother and his Grandpa take on everything together, and face many challenges as the year passes.
Heart of a Shepherd touches on many themes, but I think more than anything, it’s a story about spirit: the human spirit, the spirit we can find in the land, and religious faith too. Brother and his Grandpa work desperately hard to keep the ranch operating, never giving up no matter how hard it gets. Brother loves his home, but he has no idea if being a rancher is what he wants to do with his life. This doesn’t stop him for working himself into the ground to keep things running while his father is gone. A lot of this integrity comes from the fact that the land is a part of who he is, and has shown him how life can be difficult and awe-inspiring. It’s powerful and compelling reading to follow this character as he finds his way towards what he’s meant to do with his life. It’s like icing on the cake that Rosanne Parry really knows how to write too. Her style is clear and poetic all at once, the way a hymn or a folk tale can seem simple but every word is just the right one, from beginning to end.
I want lots of people to read this book – kids, teenagers, grown ups. Everybody. It’s a beauty. It will fill you up with hope and warmth because it’s a story about good people, doing what’s right. More than anything, Brother wants to find the thing that makes his heart happy. Rosanne Parry’s novel will make your heart happy.
Heart of a Shepherd is published by Random House and will be released on January 27th, 2009.