1965: Shadow of a Bull (Growing up is HARD)

VERDICT: Treasure?

Laurinda’s Rating: 3/5

The 1965 Newbery Medal Winner, Shadow of a Bull, is the story of a young Spanish boy whose dead father was a great bullfighter. Everyone assumes that Manolo will follow in his father’s footsteps. Manolo, however, struggles with his “cowardice”: he’s scared to jump into a hay wagon, scared of getting run over by cars, and, most of all, afraid that he won’t comport himself bravely when stuck in a ring with a bull. Me, I believe that Manolo just has a decent sense of self-preservation. The kid wrestles with the fact that he doesn’t have “afición”, passion, for bullfighting. Six friends of his late father attempt to train Manolo in the theory behind bullfighting; Manolo furthers their teaching with his own practice. Following a meeting with the famous bullfighting critic Castillo, Manolo makes an incredibly brave choice. After a brief fight with a bull, Manolo announces that he doesn’t want to be a fighter and insists on giving “his” bull to a friend who does want that life. Manolo chooses to study medicine instead.

Overall, this book is an interesting look at how the expectations of others alter our path in life. In Manolo’s case, he was able to overcome expectations of following in his father’s path to pursue something that was truly of interest to him. A lot of the “plot”, though, is just Manolo worrying about what will happen when he finally has to fight a bull. Will I be brave? I want to die rather than kill the bull, etc. etc. It’s fairly introspective, with very little action. That said, I really enjoyed the last chapter, where he talked with Castillo and made his choice about what he wanted out of life. Manolo was a well-drawn character, of interest particularly since very few books focus on boys’ insecurities.

For those interested in bull fighting or life in Spain, this would be an interesting read due to the level of technical detail involved. Also, those who love an angsty growing up tale might enjoy this Newbery entry. However, I wouldn’t particularly recommend this to the general reading public. Honestly, it’s hard to put my finger on why I didn’t love this book, but it just wasn’t enthralling. The “woe is me” plot overwhelmed the positive aspects of self examination.


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