For the Love of Strangers by Jacqueline Horsfall
Publisher: Leap Books
Length: Full Length (292 Pages)
Age Recommendation: 14+
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Jasmine
Philoxenia. When the police call using this code word, 16-year-old Darya knows she will be sheltering strangers: women with missing teeth, dislocated jaws, black eyes-and stalking husbands.
Other strangers-nonhuman-seek Darya's protection too, whispering from the depths of the forest in voices only she can hear. If she obeys the voices, she risks her adoptive mother's rage, the taunts of a surly island boy, and the wrath of her community. If she refuses the voices, a primeval species faces extermination.
What if you discovered your birth fulfilled an ancient prophecy?
What if you were destined to save an entire wild species?
Would you heed the call?
You know the saying about how you can't pick your family? Well, that's not always true, especially for kids that have been adopted.
On the surface, Darya is a typical teenage girl on the verge of getting her license. She's a strange contradiction of resenting her mother and wanting the warmth of her affection and approval. Adopted from Russia at a very young age, along with her little brother, she has a few, vague memories of her birth parents and living in Russia. These memories are just enough to help her remember her adoptive mother, Teetee, only went there to adopt one child, a baby boy – not a young girl – but came home with two. This issue is revisited throughout the book as Darya struggles to believe Teetee also wanted her, which causes a lot of resentment, feelings of inadequacy and self-esteem issues.
For Darya's entire life, Teetee has operated what is called Philoxenia House, which is a shelter for abused women, hidden within a residential area. As a result, Darya is used to keeping secrets and sheltering and nurturing others. She learns, in the course of the story, that she has a special affinity for the deer of her area. Unfortunately, she also lives in an area of farmers and other residents who view the deer as a nuisance and want them gone. With the training that Darya has unknowingly received from Teetee her whole life, Darya has found her own cause to pursue. And by the end, she has grown up enough that she can finally view Teetee for what she really is – her mother.
Darya finds a kindred spirit in Rawley, a boy living with his uncle while his mother recovers from surgery. Once past some initial confusion, they seem to understand each other very well and have a connection that Darya hasn't found with anyone else.
This book includes many illustrations of deer throughout the book, with some added history at the end about the different myths surrounding deer that I found very interesting. The plot does tend to move a little slowly in some spots, which may put off some younger readers but older and/or avid readers should have no problems with it.
This book deals with several heavy issues for teenagers with adoption, domestic violence, reincarnation and anti-hunting being included, as well as a subtle, underlying tone of female empowerment – so much so that I'm torn on suggesting the age limit be over sixteen. The topics are handled well by the author, but I might suggest that if younger teens read this they are mature enough to handle and understand the topics included. There are also some borderline paranormal elements in this book with Darya and the spirit of the deer that will bring up the female empowerment issues.
Well written, this book is an engrossing read. It kept me reading to find out what happened next and by the last page, which was left open for a sequel, I was interested in finding out what happens after the end. If the reader can handle the topics included, it will leave the door open for many interesting discussions with parents or friends. It is also a good read for kids who don't feel they fit in anywhere, as Darya does come into her own by the end with a good understanding of who she is and how she fits into the world.