Shiloh is a simple story about a boy who falls in love with an abused dog, and a dog who returns his affection. Anybody who has ever gotten a puppy as a child will be able to relate to the adoration Marty shows the dog he names Shiloh. While this is a story for young children, its themes and ethical dilemmas are much more sophisticated than some books written for adults. Naylor asks some very interesting questions for parents to discuss with their kids, and even one another, questions that don't necessarily have a right or wrong answer.
Marty comes across a distressed young dog one day, and it follows him home. His parents recognize it as Judd's new hunting dog. Judd has a reputation for mistreating his animals, and for this reason Marty wants to keep the dog, who he names Shiloh, but his parents tell him he can't. It belongs to Judd and it's not anybody's business what Judd does with his property. This kind of logic does not persuade Marty.
Shiloh flees his master yet again, and this time Marty keeps him a secret from his family. He builds a makeshift pen in their expansive yard, hidden from view, and keeps Shiloh there. He sneaks food every night, eating less of his own dinner so Shiloh can have something to eat. It takes a toll on Marty to continue lying to his parents, but he decides it's in Shiloh's best interest to keep quiet. Even his two sisters are becoming curious about where he sneaks off to. Judd stops by one night asking about his new hunting dog and he seems to suspect that Marty's hiding something. A showdown between Judd and Marty is inevitable.
Surprisingly, Judd, is very well-developed for being the villain of a young adult novel. Many novels or movies aimed at kids have one-dimensional or very silly villains, but Judd is much more human. I believe many of us have known someone like Judd. How Naylor resolves the conflict between Judd and Marty makes sense, and it sends a positive message. In making her villain human, she shows that though there are bad people in the world, things aren't simply black and white. You don't have to fight fire with fire. In fact, it is more effective to stand by your principles and stand up to people like Judd. Shiloh isn't just a novel about a boy who falls in love with a dog; it is about a boy who learns to be brave.