By Elizabeth Varadan, The Children’s Book Review
Published: October 12, 2013
Age Range: 10 – 14 years
Hardcover: 192 pages
Publisher: Clarion Books (March 5, 2013)
What to Expect: Military families, bombings, orphans, volunteer efforts, tests of friendship, loss
Jess and her two best friends, Merriweather and Sam, have formed a project, Operation Oleander, to help orphans in Kabul, Afghanistan. The club was Jess’s idea, but her friends support her efforts. She’s named the operation for the flowering bush that grows both in Florida and in Afghanistan. Jess’s father and Merriweather’s mother are serving in Kabul and deliver the project’s supplies to the orphanage. Sam’s father is a high ranking official at the Florida military base.
Many people at the base are ambivalent about this club. Their loved ones are on the front. Then news breaks that a bomb has gone off at the Kabul orphanage. Jess learns her father has been terribly wounded and Merriweather’s mother has been killed. Merriweather turns against Jess, blaming the project for her mother’s death. People at the base turn against Jess for her loyalty to the orphans. Word comes from the commander to shut down the project. Through it all, Sam remains Jess’s friend. Jess is torn between grief at her father’s crippling wounds, guilt over the death of Merriweather’s mother, and sadness at the loss of Merriweather’s friendship.
This book deals with some serious and worthy issues, and I wanted to like it more than I did. The writing is eloquent and lyrical at times, but it felt cerebral and removed from the very issues so eloquently expressed. Consequently, it didn’t feel like an MG or YA novel to me, and Jess and her friends didn’t really “feel” like ninth graders. It was hard for this reader to get drawn into their characters and take their reactions to heart.
This book will appeal to readers of ages 12 and up, grades 7 and up, who relate to military family issues and volunteer efforts for people in other countries.
Add this book to your collection: Operation Oleander
For more information, visit: Operation Oleander – Valerie O. Patterson
Read a guest post from Patterson on “The Art of Writing About Current Affairs”
Operation Oleander was reviewed by Elizabeth Varadan.