Aisling Shepherd is not enjoying her teen years at all. She is struggling with being abandoned by her father, missing her hard-working mother, being isolated or bullied at school. When Aisling begins to dream of a different world, she rediscovers her father and learns the truth about why he left.
Aisling must grow up quickly. She learns about the crucial role her family plays, about her special powers, and about the life-changing choice she will have to make.
Theme of the Book
Shepherds Awakening is a bitter-sweet coming of age story that combines personal growth and personal loss and love and abandonment. It is not only a story of growing up but of finding a role that stresses doing good to others.
What I Liked About the Story
The picture Mr. Connolly paints of Aisling Shepherd is not a pleasant one. She is not a very likeable character at the beginning of the novel. But she is a very true to life, understandable girl. Aisling distrusts herself; she is afraid to speak up in class; she knows she is not one of the ‘cool kids’. She sometimes wonders is she is the reason her father abandoned the family. Aisling is bullied by the mean girls in her school and ignored or laughed at by everyone else.
All of this is the background to Aisling’s character when she first visits Limbo, the strange and wonderful world she finds in her dreams. Knowing her as we do, we can easily understand her reactions to finding her father, to discovering the new powers she has, and to dealing with the choices she must make.
The choices Aisling makes are a major part of the story. First, she must decide whether or not to forge a new relationship with her father. Then, later in the story, she is confronted with a suggestion from Jake, the coolest guy in school, that she become his ‘secret’ girlfriend. Finally, she has the most difficult decision to make: whether or not to accept the mission of the Shepherd family. In two of these situations, Aisling makes the expected choice, but in the third she makes a choice that will make readers shake their heads. While we can understand why she makes her choice, we can only think that it is a terrible decision.
The descriptions of Limbo are breathtaking. Readers can see what Aisling sees and feel what she feels. While the existence of Limbo may strain credulity, the way Mr. Connelly has written about it makes it believable in the context of the novel. The idea of Limbo as an introduction to the afterlife has its roots in Christian theology. Historically, Limbo was divided into two parts: in one part, souls had the chance to ascend to heaven; in the second part, souls were condemned to an eternal half-life. Mr. Connelly has followed this scheme in his description of Limbo. While this may not appeal to those who follow Christian teachings closely, the device is perfect for the plot of the story.
What I Didn’t Like About the Story
Some of the people stuck in Limbo have, for some unexplained reason, missed their opportunity to cross into a permanent afterlife. These people are preyed upon by “shades”. The presence of shades is not a bad idea, but the first thing this reader thought of was the Dementors from the Harry Potter series. The two creatures are too similar and any Harry Potter fan will recognize the Dementors immediately. I found this similarity to be a definite weak point in an otherwise strong story.
At one point in Shepherds Awakening, Aisling takes it upon herself to guide various souls into the afterlife. She handles three transitions and, as expected, one goes well, one is very hard for her, and the third is vicious. This series of interactions felt forced, as if the author wanted to underline the way Limbo and the Shepherds work all at once.
Shepherds Awakening is an award-winning independent novel. It deserves the award it has won despite the minor weak points in the plot. In addition, this book is awarded the One Stop Fiction Book Award. Shepherds Awakening is not too frightening for younger readers and will also interest adults. Many young readers will be able to identify with Aisling’s personality and problems.