Gifted by John Daniel

GiftedFrom early on, Henry Fielder is different.  Although somewhat social with other kids, he is solitary by preference and has an unusual way with animals.  His mother recognizes Henry’s unique approach to the wild, and encourages him to engage with it as much as he can by hiking long jaunts near their home in Oregon’s coastal range.

His father is less empathetic to Henry’s affinity to nature, but even he understands the need to get out in it.  Henry grows up learning from his dad how to fish, hunt, and otherwise appreciate the practical sides of the natural world.

After his mother dies of cancer, the father/son dynamic between teenage Henry and his dad changes for the worst.  His father is working harder hours and trying to homeschool his son, but, as Henry is in his rebellious years, he creates some trouble.  His dad’s ideas of discipline soon turn towards physical abuse, and beyond.

Forgiveness from Henry is elusive; this is fateful, when a storm of horrendous power destroys their house, kills his father, and sends Henry on a journey of self-discovery that uncovers his wildest fears and forces him into remorse and maturity.  After his return, Henry finds forgiveness from other people in his community and acceptance from an older couple who have befriended him.  He also maintains a close contact with Raven, a member of a rural commune who helped Henry towards the end of his journey.

As a character, Henry is likeable, but pretty flawed.  He does quite a bit of crazy things, including drugs and petty theft, and there are times here where one can see how he tries his old man, who is trying, in his own flawed way, to make a home for the two of them.  Unfortunately, the dad does something unspeakable, and Henry can’t forgive him soon enough.

I’d almost call Gifted a young adult novel, but it is easily accessible to adult readers.  The book is written from the perspective of a much-older Henry, as he reflects on his teenage life in 1990s Oregon, when environmental groups and logging interests clashed.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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