Sometimes I wonder how it is that the same authors win the Newbery Award multiple times. Are they champions in the world of children's literature? Are there actually just few writers of children's literature? Is there a familiarity with these names in the higher reaches? I don't know enough to make a guess. But if you are familiar with the interesting and excellent Newbery Winner, The Witch of Blackbird Pond (1959), then you are familiar with Elizabeth George Speare, who also wrote this award winner, The Bronze Bow.
The first time I started to read this book, I was put off at first by realizing that it was a story about young people interacting with Jesus and his ministry. I put it away for awhile while I examined my feelings about a book of this nature being part of the Newbery Award platform. I had to consider how I would feel if it were about the origins of Islam, promoting that way. Or, like The Cat Who Went to Heaven, a clear pitch on Buddhism. I didn't want to dismiss it, just because it might belong to the category of propaganda or tracts. It did win the award, after all. So I picked it up again and dove in.
Daniel is a young man, 18 years old, who has chosen to live a life in hiding, in the mountains with Rosh and his band of zealots. He has a sorry past of pain and loss at the hands of the occupying Romans, and he has turned his life over to revenge and hate, and future glory when they overthrow the hated overlords and Israel reclaims its land and autonomy. He looks to Rosh as a father figure and is proud and grateful when give the chance to participate in raids against traders on the road. We are allowed to see that Rosh is an uncouth and selfish leader, who cares nothing for the men in his band except what they can do for him. But Daniel is blind to that.
After Daniel makes some friends from the town, while they were out exploring the hills, he begins to spend some time down there. He visits the hut of his grandmother and sister, Leah, who is suffering from mental disorder from the earlier trauma to their family. He stays, he goes, he comes back; he can't stand to be there, but he feels guilty for not being there for them. He develops his friendship more deeply to the pair he met in the hills, and then enters into intrigue and spying and plans for revenge and helping to bring about the revolution, trusting in Rosh to carry through on his part.
Daniel hates the Romans, deeply. Stupidly deeply. Spitting at them, insulting them, seemingly not able to control his actions. Hate and anger, anger and hate. Selfishness. Mean to his sister. He's nice at times, but is so selfish he cannot care for her or her needs beyond a pretty low bar. Jesus is kind of a sidebar to the story, really. You just get a brief inclination of what he was all about. But it feels that the story is leading to a redemption of Daniel and his awful nature, even if that nature is mixed in with sincere concern for Jewish freedom. He struggles a little with some of the ideas Jesus has communicated, such as loving your enemies and his coming kingdom, but manages to shrug most of it off.
Even though Jesus is a real person in this book, he has been cast in a mystical glow, as he speaks and heals the sick. You will have guessed already that Daniel is indeed redeemed and changed from his former self, but unsatisfyinly so. I did not like the character. He did not have my sympathy, especially for the way he treated his family, and for his rage and surliness. I could have invested more of myself in the story if I had been allowed to see more of his change of heart, his reactions to self-revelation, his regret over past actions. But the author waited until the last couple pages to handle that, and I only know Daniel's character as the young man I spent 250 pages getting to know and dislike.
Bought this book at the thrift store.