[Shiloh]: A Review

Hi y’all!

I’ve scheduled this review to come out several weeks after I wrote it. Trying to get ahead so I have some posts coming when I am recovering and snuggling our newborn in July!

I read Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor on a whim. I hadn’t planned to read it this month but it is the 1992 Newbery Medal winner so it’s on my Newbery Challenge list. Anyways, I picked it up at my parents house and read half of it on the couch in just an hour or so. Then I took it home and finished it that night. It’s a short, quaint little novel about the simple love of a boy for a dog. This book was an easy read but didn’t really grab me.

Initial Thoughts:

  • There are a lot of Newbery winners about dogs. And I’m just not a dog person. So these stories mostly fall a bit flat for me. I just don’t get as invested in stories like this. This is a lovely little book but it’s not my new favorite.

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According to Goodreads, “When Marty Preston comes across a young beagle in the hills behind his home, it’s love at first sight—and also big trouble. It turns out the dog, which Marty names Shiloh, belongs to Judd Travers who drinks too much and has a gun—and abuses his dogs. So when Shiloh runs away from Judd to Marty, Marty just has to hide him and protect him from Judd. But Marty’s secret becomes too big for him to keep to himself, and it exposes his entire family to Judd’s anger. How far will Marty have to go to make Shiloh his?

I admire Marty and his desire to take care of Shiloh. Marty has a good heart and good principles. He works hard. He wants to do the right thing. And he tries to make up for his mistakes. He isn’t perfect, but I  admire his courage.For example, he lies to try to get what he wants but then tries to make things right. His personality felt quite realistic for me. He is a typical 11 year old boy who wants to get what he wants (a dog) but also feels bad for lying to his parents. Shiloh and Marty have a sweet bond. I liked seeing how Marty’s 11 year old brain worked to build Shiloh a house, sneak him food, and try to get enough money to buy him. He is a very likable protagonist and I imagine many young boys really connect with him when reading this story. 

The setting was presented rather idyllically. I have never wanted to live in the backwoods of West Virginia but the writing certainly painted a lovely picture of that part of the country. While it’s hinted at throughout the story that Marty’s family isn’t wealthy, they are happy. Their home is full of love and his whole family obviously cares about each other. It was sweet when Shiloh comes into the house and becomes part of the family during his recovery. I liked the descriptions of how each member of the family bonded with him. Everything seems so simple and idyllic even in the conflict of the story.

There are lovely details throughout the story that add to the tranquil tone of the story. There is a simplicity and a calm in this story that I enjoyed. From the description of lunch at his friend’s house, to the family sitting outside after dinner, Marty running on the hill with Shiloh, even the work Judd makes Marty complete–all of these details create a simple picture of life in this small West Virginia town. The whole story felt peaceful, even moments that were more intense were situated within this tranquil tone. 

One element of the novel surprised me: the intense themes. Some of the most prominent were abuse of animals, right versus wrong, and moral law vs laws of the land. There are some heavy topics in this book that give readers of any age a lot to think about. Is it okay for a man to treat his animals however he wants if he paid for them honestly? Is lying ever okay? Do laws of the land always coincide with the laws of God? Should they? Judd kicks and starves his dogs. He does not always follow the rules on hunting. He isn’t a nice person. But he paid for his dogs. Marty basically stole his dog and didn’t tell him. But the ending brings them together in a fascinating way as they both learn a lesson about treating others fairly, the value of hard work, and the power of love.

I’m glad to have read this little Newbery winner. It’s not a new favorite of mine, but it’s a nice book.

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Do you love middle grade novels about animals? Why or why not?
Which Newbery winners have disappointed you a bit?

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I read this Newbery Medal winner as a part of my Newbery Challenge.
I plan to read all 100 Newbery Medal winners by the end of 2022, the year the 100th winner is announced.

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