Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the first book in the “Shiloh” series.
Eleven-year-old Marty Preston lives in the hills of West Virginia with his parents and two younger sisters, Becky and Sara Lynn. One day while playing in the woods, Marty finds a skinny, skittish beagle that follows him for the rest of the afternoon. He suspects the dog has been abused and wonders if he belongs to neighbor Judd Travers. He’s seen Judd swindle shopkeepers and hunt illegally, so Marty wouldn’t put it past the man to harm a dog. Marty and his father take the dog to Judd and confirm it is his. Judd says he will beat and starve this dog until it learns to obey him.
Marty has a hard time sleeping, always thinking he’s hearing the cries of the dog he’s named Shiloh. When he finds Shiloh again a few days later, he vows he’ll never return him to his cruel master. Marty builds a covered pen for Shiloh on the hill near his house. He saves food from his own meals, even though he’s sometimes hungry, to feed Shiloh. He spends his days secretly rolling around, running and playing with his new best friend. Marty wrestles with God and his conscience as he tells lies and half-truths to keep the dog hidden.
One night, Ma follows Marty and discovers his secret. She plays with Shiloh and gives Marty a day to think of a solution before she tells Dad. That night, the family hears horrible cries. Marty races up to Shiloh’s pen, where a neighbor’s German shepherd has attacked the beagle. Dad helps Marty bundle up the nearly dead Shiloh, and they drive him to the doctor. The doctor doesn’t know if he can save Shiloh, but he keeps him and says he’ll report back soon.
Marty is concerned now that his whole family and the doctor know he’s been keeping Judd’s dog. His parents argue about what to do, but they’re clearly both concerned for Shiloh’s welfare. The doctor arrives the next afternoon with the patched-up dog. Marty’s family keeps it in the house and loves it back to health. Even his parents, Ma in particular, seem smitten with Shiloh. Dad says they will have to give him back to Judd, but Dad allows them to keep him while he recovers. All is well until a neighbor tells Judd about seeing a beagle at the doctor’s office.
Judd storms into Marty’s home and demands to know why they’re keeping his hunting dog. Dad tries to placate him by saying they wanted to get the dog well before bringing him back. Ma asks how much Judd would take to sell them Shiloh, but he says the dog isn’t for sale. He allows them to keep Shiloh until Sunday to help him heal, since a lame dog is no good to him. Marty tries to come up with every possible solution to keep the dog out of Judd’s hands, but nothing seems feasible.
On Sunday morning, Marty heads toward Judd’s house. He plans to tell the man he isn’t giving the dog back, even if Judd wants to hurt him. He catches Judd shooting a deer illegally and realizes this is his bargaining chip. He tells Judd he won’t report the crime if Judd gives him Shiloh. Judd agrees but says the boy will have to work for him two hours a day for two weeks. He writes out the agreement on a scrap of paper.
Judd works Marty hard. Toward the middle of the second week, he tells Marty their contract is no good because there were no witnesses. Marty isn’t sure what to do, so he continues coming to work to fulfill his end of the deal. He works harder than he has to and even makes an effort to sit with Judd and speak to him kindly. At the end of the two weeks, Judd keeps his end of the bargain, too. The family celebrates as Shiloh becomes theirs.
Marty says God can strike him dead if he doesn’t keep his promise to protect Shiloh. Dad prays before meals. Marty thinks back to a time when he ate part of his sister’s chocolate bunny. His mother had reminded him that Jesus knew who did this and was sad, and that the Bible said there was nothing worse than being separated from God’s love. He confessed then. His mother had him ask God and his sister for forgiveness, which made him feel better.
Thinking about this now, he acknowledges that he’s lying by not telling Judd where Shiloh is. He prays to Jesus, asking if He would rather have him be totally honest and take the dog back to be abused, or keep him here to fatten him up and glorify His creation. Marty feels like the answer is clear to him. The Jesus from the story cards in Sunday school wouldn’t want an innocent beagle to be hurt.
Marty also thinks if Jesus returns to earth again, He’ll come as a dog because there isn’t anything as patient or humble or loyal or loving. Marty says if his grandma is right, and liars go to hell, then that’s where he’ll end up. But he says he would go running from heaven if it were true that there aren’t dogs there. Grandma also used to say Jesus would make people blind if they didn’t attend morning and evening services on Sunday.
Marty’s poor but hard-working parents are attentive and loving. Ma and Dad wrestle, as Marty does, with knowing the right thing to do when they suspect animal abuse. They rejoice with Marty when he is able to save Shiloh. Judd is a mean, calloused man who beats and kills animals and cheats his neighbors. Judd’s father beat him often and severely when he was young.
D–n, heck and h— are used a time or two. Marty invokes the Lord’s name a few times (e.g., “Jesus help me”) when emphatically trying to prove his sincerity. Marty finds Shiloh bloody, torn up and barely alive after having been mauled by a German shepherd. The short scene, while not gratuitously gory, may disturb some readers.
None. Ma sings along to a country love song with the line “It’s you I want to share my bed.”
Abuse: Judd is brutal to his dogs, starving and beating them. He tells Marty his own father beat him throughout his childhood, leaving welts on his back so big he could hardly put on a shirt.
Substance use: Judd drinks beer and chews tobacco, sometimes at the same time.
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