Laurinda’s Rating: 3.5/5
The 1962 Newbery Medal Winner, The Bronze Bow, was authored by Elizabeth George Speare, who won the 1959 Newbery with The Witch of Blackbird Pond. This Newbery entry is the store of Daniel, a boy growing up during the time of Jesus. When we meet him, Daniel is living with a gang in the hills above town, seeking revenge against the Romans because they killed his father. Following his grandmother’s death, Daniel returns to his village to work as a blacksmith and care for his agoraphobic sister. He continues to work for the liberation of Israel by organizing a squad of young townsmen, including his wealthier friend Joel. Gradually, Daniel comes to see the negative effects the gang has on the town, both through thievery and through the retaliations the Romans visit upon the village in lieu of the robbers they can’t catch. The final break comes when Joel is captured and imprisoned for gathering information for the rebels. The gang leader, Ross, refuses to help save him, so Daniel and his group undertake the task, losing two friends in the melee. Eventually, Jesus heals Daniel’s sister, removing Daniel’s disbelief and hatred at the same time.
As in her previous Newbery Winner, Speare creates vivid characters and maneuvers them skillfully through challenging moral quandaries. Daniel initially believes strongly that Ross’ methodology – stealing food from local farmers/herders and robbing travelers – is justified because they’re helping bring about the liberation of Israel. However, he soon has to grapple with facts to the contrary. Speare does an amazing job depicting Daniel’s desperate struggle to find a place for himself in the world. Daniel’s depression when he rejects first Ross and then, temporarily, Jesus, comes through not merely in his thoughts but also in the nuances of his actions. Even beyond the normal struggles of any adolescent, Daniel wrestles with deep philosophical questions few of us face in our lives.
Although the main character is male, Speare’s female characters are also quite nuanced. Joel’s sister Thacia swears an oath alongside her twin. She breaks the Law by dressing as a man, serving as a decoy of Joel. More importantly, Thacia helps teach Daniel how to love. Even Daniel’s sister Leah, who begins the narrative as a shadow, scared of others, blossoms into a personable character who struggles with her limitations and willingly interacts with a young Roman soldier, helping him deal with his homesickness. Both women are integral to the narrative and to Daniel’s self-discovery, serving as far more than foils.
Ultimately, Speare gives us a tale of one man’s conversion to Jesus. While the religious motif of love topping hate weaves through the novel, particularly the ending, Speare draws the journey with subtlety. She depicts the milieu in which Christianity arose with great sensitivity, showing why people doubted as well as how some came to believe. Even for those without an interest in Christianity, The Bronze Bow‘s provides an fairly interesting narrative of a boy’s journey into manhood. I recommend this novel for late elementary or middle school readers, particularly those interested in antiquity. I will admit that I groaned when I initially read the description, so this Newbery entry was far better than I expected.