Shiloh is a complex and very moving account of a young boy's desire to save an abused dog and the strong love he develops for the animal. At first, his choice seems rather clear cut: Marty feels he must save the dog at any cost, so he builds a ramshackle pen and secretly hides and cares for the beagle. Although he believes saving Shiloh is right, Marty wrestles with his conscience even as the lies to his family and friends spawn new lies, the animal suffers more harm in his care than it ever did at the hands of his owner, he recognizes he has taken another person's property, and when saving the dog eventually requires overlooking an illegal act.
Phyllis Naylor crafted a story without pat answers; a story that gives children credit for intelligence and a desire to grapple with life's difficult questions. Shiloh provides great fodder for family discussion about if and when lying is ok and whether the end justifies the means. (Was the biblical Rahab right to lie about seeing Israeli spies? What about 20th century Bible smugglers to Eastern Europe, like Brother Andrew God's Smuggler? Or what of a woman who defies the authorities in The Hiding Place?)
Although a story in which the main character lies to his parents and sneaks around might seem to present a flawed role model, I found the opposite true. While Judd does despicable things and is not well-liked, Marty (and the reader) gains insights into Judd's past that foster his compassion for Judd. Marty is not comfortable with some of the things he does to save Shiloh, precisely because he does have a strong moral compass. In the end, Marty owns up to his actions and responds with courage and sacrifice to save Shiloh. His family is close-knit, with wise and loving parents (but not plaster saints).
Parents certainly need to consider their children's readiness for a tale with some moral ambiguity as well as some of the other Noteworthy Content listed above. For a child with the maturity to tackle the issues within, Shiloh is, in my opinion, a worthwhile read.
The last two lines of Shiloh provide a good summary for this unique and captivating tale: "I'm thinking how nothing is as simple as you guess - not right or wrong, not Judd Travers, not even me or this dog I got here. But the good part is I saved Shiloh and opened my eyes some. Now that ain't bad for eleven."