4 out of 4 stars
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In Charlie Sheldon’s novel Strong Heart, the action begins from the start. We meet Tom, an older man, his good Native American friend William, and William’s daughter, Myrna. The three friends are preparing to embark on a backpacking trip through Olympic National State Park. Before they depart, Tom’s ex-wife shows up at the door with an unexpected surprise: a girl named Sarah, who turns out to be the granddaughter Tom didn’t know he had.
Thrown off by this life-changing news that stands before him in the form of a sullen teenager, Tom makes a hasty decision to bring Sarah along on the hike. Sarah is less than thrilled. As this odd foursome makes their way along the trail, we begin to learn more about Tom—and why he is on this expedition.
Shortly after they set out, Sarah wanders off to relax by a riverbank. When she returns to camp, she is visibly shaken, and holds up a drawing of the biggest black bear Tom has ever seen. The others in the group are skeptical—black bears are not common in this area—but Sarah holds to her tale. Next thing we know, Sarah has disappeared along with an important artifact that Tom brought on the trip. Where did she go? And why?
It took me a little while to connect to this story. Strong Heart is very plot-driven, and—whether this was an intentional choice by the author or not—this characters seemed rather two-dimensional in the beginning. Though I wanted to sympathize with Tom’s strong feelings of surprise and confusion toward his granddaughter, I had a hard time empathizing with him as a character, simply because I didn’t know much about him.
Further, when the four characters set off on their hike, William and Myra seemed just as surprised as Sarah by large portions of Tom’s backstory. This also struck me as a bit odd. For three people who were planning an intense hike through the wilderness, they seemed to know little about each other, and the lack of a developed relationship between these three characters made them seem shallow.
However, as the book continued, I quickly got over my indifference toward the cast of Strong Heart. Sheldon possesses an exceptional ability to craft a compelling mystery. About halfway through the book, the story shifts to the perspective of Sarah as she confesses the bizarre story behind her disappearance. This is where the novel truly began to captivate me, as I believe Sheldon does an excellent job of conveying Sarah’s voice, and I found her an empathetic character.
Overall, I am giving this book a 4 out of 4 rating. There were no significant editorial issues to interfere with my enjoyment of this book. Though I would have enjoyed delving into the backstory of some of the characters before jumping into a fast-paced plot, I believe this is more of a personal preference, and do not believe it detracted from the voice of the novel. If you are looking for a captivating adventure story with a solid cast of characters and an arduous (and mysterious) quest, this may be just the book for you!
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