Anne Laurel Carter states that her book is a “fictional rendering of a complex situation,” meaning; it is one of the very few YA novels attempting to tackle the subject of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At the tender age of six, Amani, the Palestinian protagonist, decides to follow in her grandfather’s footsteps and become a shepherd. She will not be going to school but will be tutored by members of the family. The author does an excellent job of showing the tender relationship between Amani and her grandfather as well as the closeness of the large immediate and extended family. She shares interesting information on sheep raising, the olive harvest, Arab views of the roles of women, as well as wedding and death observances. To enable the reader to learn some Arabic and Hebrew words, Carter includes a glossary with translations. However, the author also has a heavy agenda. As the book progresses, it shows the pain and displacement to the entire family as a result of what the Israelis do. Israeli settlers move into the area where the family has lived for many years, roads built by the Israelis are ones that the Palestinians are forbidden to use, the families’ houses are demolished, their olive trees are destroyed, Amani’s sheep are poisoned, her sheepdog is shot, and her brother and father are jailed. If readers do not cry at the suffering of the families in this book, they have hearts of stone. As this is a work of fiction, the author need not substantiate anything that she writes, but this book is meant for an audience that either wants to believe what is written or has little background to dispute what is on the page. There is an American Jewish boy who is depicted sympathetically; however, he refuses to stay in Israel and instead chooses to go back to New York to speak out against Israeli settlements. This earnest effort to create meaningful fiction from this difficult subject eventually falls flat because it is too one-sided. Ages 12 and up.
Marge Kaplan is a retired English as a Second Language teacher. She is a consultant for the children’s literature group for the Roseville, MN school system and is a storyteller of Jewish tales.