Reading/Interest Level: Intermediate, Young Adult
Author: Valerie O. Patterson
Publisher: Clarion Books
Jess Westmark and two friends started a project to collect school supplies to be sent to an orphanage in Kabul, Afghanistan. This charity, Operation Oleander, was close to Jess’s heart; not only was her father serving in Kabul in the military but Jess identified with the children in the orphanage because she had been adopted as a baby. Donations were sent to Kabul on military planes whenever there was room and was distributed by Jess’s father. Difficulties arose when two soldiers, a teacher and some of the orphans were killed by an IED as school supplies were being delivered. Jess’s father was seriously injured. Her best friend’s mother was one of the soldiers killed. This story is how a fourteen-year-old girl copes with separation of a parent, anxiety, guilt and sorrow. She supports her friend in her grief and works out a way to continue the good work that Operation Oleander started in the face of protesters and detractors.
Operation Oleander is Patterson’s second novel for young people and was selected for both Junior Library Guild and VOYA Top Shelf Fiction for Middle School Readers in 2013. This book deals with the difficult issues experienced when someone close to you serves in a war zone. It touches on the question of how best to help people in a war torn country and should we become involved in their local social issues? It also touches on how to help a friend who has lost a family member to death or injury is illustrated as Jess battles guilt and blame for what happened to her friend’s mother. These are adult themes that help teenager Jess to grow and mature in understanding and compassion. Discussion after reading this book could garner appreciation for soldiers and the families they leave behind as they serve. It could touch on appropriate ways to help others in our own communities who are facing difficulties as well as those in other countries. These and other questions and discussions could take place in a parent/child or school situation.
*Contains mild violence.