4 out of 4 stars
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As Tom Olsen readies to embark on a journey to visit his grandfather’s grave, he packs a secret along with his camping gear. His good friend, William, is coming along as is William’s daughter Myra. The hope is to make the trek up to the grave before Buckhorn International begins mining the land. Just as the three are set to leave, an unexpected visitor arrives and Tom is left in charge of the granddaughter he never knew existed. Now, with his two friends and his troubled 13-year-old granddaughter, Sarah Cooley, Tom begins an adventure that will change them all forever.
Strong Heart by Charlie Sheldon draws the reader into the picturesque landscapes of the Pacific Northwest along the trails of the Olympic National Park. It follows Tom Olsen’s quest as he struggles with past choices and grapples with his newly arrived headstrong granddaughter, Sarah. As the hikers undertake their journey, they find they are not alone. Surveyors for Buckhorn are on the trail. William and Myra are especially troubled by these developments as the mountain is part of their ancestral land. The adults’ problems weigh heavy as they struggle to deal with the coming changes and the increasingly agitated Sarah. It is Sarah, the unknown entity in the group, who drives the narrative and forces the characters to deal with both the internal and external challenges they face in this sometimes mystical and surreal setting. Does she hold the key to the answers they seek? Maybe only the mountain knows?
Sheldon explores many themes in this novel. What connects us to the past? What makes us part of the human family? How does myth and science intersect in the human experience? All these themes are woven into a moving tale of adventure, suspense and loss set in a land of beauty and mystery where reality and dreams collide with past and present. The reader finds it easy to question established belief systems right along with the characters. As Hamlet reminds Horatio, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,/Than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” Sheldon reminds the reader that there are things on earth that are unexplainable.
Particularly of interest in Strong Heart is Sheldon’s exploration of myth. It is well accepted that myth remains myth until it is proven otherwise through data. But what is data? Is memory data? Are dreams data? You may not get an answer in Strong Heart, but you will certainly enjoy exploring the questions. Anyone who has ever spent much time hiking alone in the mountains will tell you there are times you feel a connection to your surroundings that can only be explained as otherworldly. In Strong Heart, the reader is given a wonderful story of such a connection. I can’t wait to read the next book in The Spear Thrower Series, Adrift. Now excuse me while I find my boots and head for the hills.
I rate this book 4 out of 4 stars. It is well written. The plot moves along nicely, and the characters are well established and interesting. Anyone with an interest in Native American culture, mythology, anthropology or just darn good storytelling will be interested in this novel.
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