Thirteen-year-old Rachel Sheridan is left an orphan after influenza takes the lives of her missionary parents in British East Africa in 1919. National Book Award-winning author Whelan crafts a wickedly delicious story of treachery and triumph, in which one young woman must claim her true identity in order to forge her own future and transform herself from victim to heroine. (goodreads summary)
Rachel lives in British East Africa among the Kikuyu and Masai. She lives a happy and simple life with her father who is the doctor at the Mission Hospital and her mother a teacher. Rachel explores the wild nature around her and takes in its' beauty at every wakeful moment. At night, she listens for the lions roar and can feel their strength and freedom. Her nearest neighbors, the wealthy Pritchards from England live on the next plantation a few miles away. They live a very charmed and different life from Rachel's family. The 1919 influenza outbreak has rapidly taken millions of lives all over the world and is now spreading to the local African cities and farms. The epidemic quickly reaches Tumaini, the Mission Hospital where Rachel calls home. Sadly, both her parents become victims of the influenza within weeks of the outbreak. The Pritchards offer to take her in as the hospital closes leaving her with many questions about her future. It soon becomes obvious that the Pritchard's generosity is not all that seems to be. They plan a devious and sinister plot for money forcing Rachel with the choice of either joining them in their deceit or be sent to the nearest orphanage with an uncertain future. She finds herself travelling miles away from Africa to a new and unfamiliar place to help carry out with the lies and greed, only to keep the hope in her heart of someday returning back to her homeland.
This book hooked me from the very first page! I quickly found myself drawn into the setting and the characters with the beautifully written details. The story was rich with diversity and culture giving me clear images of a place and time I have never been to. Rachel knew she was a willing participant in the scheme along with the Pritchard's. Instead of feeling she was a victim, she takes personal responsibility for her choices. It sends the message of right vs. wrong and letting your conscious guide you. The storyline kept building with every chapter and each one I kept waiting for the truth to come out. She finds courage one day to make the right choice and a very happy outcome in doing so follows. As the years go by, Rachel grows to be a young woman and again must make choices that are different than what her heart tells her. Her dreams and determination to return to Africa to finish her parent's work was inspiring. She faced many obstacles for a young girl in that era but throughout the entire story she always stays true to herself. I especially liked how the author included many words throughout the book from Rachel's native language, Swahili. A glossary was thankfully added at the end to decode any confusing and new vocabulary words in this unfamiliar language. I found myself constantly reading until the end, placing myself in Rachel's shoes and wondering if I would be able to handle the many situations she faced with the strength and maturity as she had. All in all, I entirely believe that Listening for Lions is worthy of it's National Book Award and I think this is a "just right book" for ages 10 and up.~
Title: Listening for Lions
Author: Gloria Whelan
Genre: historical fiction, middle grade
Pub. Date: October 2006, Harper Collins
Hardcover, 195 pgs.