Strutin’s (History Hikes of the Smokies, 2003, etc.) novel tells the story of a minor character from the biblical Book of Exodus who fights for justice.
Sixteen-year-old Noa and her four sisters, Milcah, Malah, Hoglah, and Tirzah, are spirited young women making the journey with their elderly parents from Egypt to the prophesied land of their fathers. They’re following Moses, but they’ve been waiting for months for him to come down from the top of a nearby mountain, where he’s been receiving new laws from God. In the meantime, groups of men among them start to make laws for themselves, or seek out idols to help them on their journey. After a misunderstanding about some man-made rules, Noa’s father, Zelophechad, is stoned to death. Without him, and without any brothers, Noa and her sisters aren’t guaranteed a plot of land when the caravan of pilgrims reaches its destination. Noa is determined to achieve justice for her family and begins to plot ways to convince judges of their case. In the meantime, there are alliances to be made through marriage, a business to maintain, and an aging mother to care for. With great attention to detail, Strutin takes these obscure characters—who are mentioned in only three Bible verses—and spins out an in-depth account of the joys and hardships of womanhood in the ancient world. She uses each of the sisters to portray a different stage of womanly growth, from the tomboyish 8-year-old Tirzah to awkward teenager Hoglah to the eldest three, whose thoughts are of money, matrimony, and everything that comes with them. It will certainly help a prospective reader to be familiar with the plot of the Book of Exodus, at least in vague terms. That said, there’s a great deal of interpersonal drama and intrigue that will keep even nonreligious readers engaged in the tale of Noa’s sheepherding family.
A good choice for readers who love historical tales of strong-willed women.