Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon
Scribner: 7/12/16
eBook review copy; 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9781501121890

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon is a highly recommended debut novel featuring two ten year old girls who decide to look for God and solve a mystery.

It is the summer of 1976 and a heat wave has swept England. What is really troublesome is that Mrs. Creasy has disappeared from the cul-de-sac and no one knows why. Friends Grace and Tilly decide, after a casual conversation with the vicar, to search for God and Mrs. Creasy at the same time. Interestingly enough, the girls figure out that the adults around them aren't all being completely honest when answering their questions and it seems that the adults around them are hiding something. What all the adults seem to agree on is that Grace and Tilly should stay away from #11.

The title of the novel refers to a parable where Jesus is separating good from evil, explaining it as separating the sheep from the goats. The novel almost acts like a parable itself, showing how the truth will eventually be revealed and the hypocrisy of judging others without acknowledging your own involvement in wrong doing. (See the parable "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?" Matthew 7:3) The citizens on the cul-de-sac firmly believe all their actions are just and they blame Walter Bishop in #11 (their goat, or scapegoat) for all manner of crimes.

Chapters alternate between the present day, 1976, and events occurring 9 years earlier, in 1967.
It seems to Grace and Till that the adults are hiding some secrets from that time and apparently Mrs. Creasy had begun to figure out some of the lies. The events of 1967 begin to explain some of the events of 1976. Each chapter begins with the date and address, making it clear which neighbor is narrating that piece of the puzzle. This is a very engaging story and  you will want to figure out what exactly happened in 1967 that has all these people blaming Walter Bishop for, well, everything.

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep is a well written debut novel that combines a mystery with a coming-of-age story. Grace sounds much older than ten, so I simply mentally made her a couple years older and went on with the story. Admittedly, finding the image of Christ on a drainpipe was a bit of an eye-roller for me. It felt like it sent things too far over the top and made what was allegorical and symbolic into more of a farce. The end was a surprise.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.

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