Ninth-grader Jess Westmark had the best of intentions when she started Operation Oleander to raise money for a girls’ orphanage in Kabul. She named her charity for the oleander that grows both in her Florida hometown and in Afghanistan, where her father is deployed. But on one of her father's trips to deliver supplies to the orphans, a car bomb explodes nearby and her father is gravely injured. Worse, her best friend’s mother and some of the children are killed, and people are blaming Operation Oleander for turning the orphanage into a military target for the Taliban. Is this all Jess’s fault? (from GoodReads)
I think that Operation Oleander would be a great book for middle school readers. I liked it well enough but it's definitely for younger readers and has important themes that would make it a good pick for summer reading.
The heart and main theme of this novel is about guilt and the responsibility we have for things that happen after our actions take place. Operation Oleander makes it clear that sometimes having good intentions isn't enough to stop bad things from happening. Jess gets a major wake up call in this book when her charity causes US soldiers to die delivering school supplies to an Afghan orphanage. That's a pretty dramatic event to showcase the focus of the book but it demonstrates that actions can have dire consequences. I understand why people wanted to blame Jess for the tragedy; sometimes it's easier to blame someone than accept the fact that bad things happen for no reason. However, it would have been really easy to blame the Taliban, since they were the ones directly responsible for the attack.
I felt really bad for Jess because honestly it wasn't her fault that the soldiers died but everyone gave her a hard time anyway. The only time she annoyed me was when she initially refused to stop the charity (even for the time being). She acted really immature, especially when the commander of the entire military base asked her to stop collecting items out of respect for the family members of the deceased. The fact that she was even arguing was bizarre; it was like she couldn't understand that people might not want to be reminded of what happened. Maybe her reaction was due to grief (her father was injured in the attack) but it was not something I would have done.
Operation Oleander was fairly short but it definitely had an important message about choices and consequences. Any future teachers out there will definitely want this on their required reading list.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
FTC: borrowed from the library.
2013/Clarion Books192 pages.