Zillah, an orphan who lives in a caravan serai – a safe haven for desert travelers – is unlike all of the other children. At only eleven-years-old, she can count and read, while few others can. The strange birthmark on her face also sets her apart. Many see her mark as the sign of a curse; few see it as a blessing. Under her Aunt and Uncle’s tyrannous rule, Zillah works hard in the serai, day after day. She is slowly saving up to buy her freedom from the dreadful place. Then, one night, Zillah sees a bright star shining in the sky that no one else sees. The next day a royal caravan arrives, and they too see the star. They are following it to what they hope is the location of their new leader – one who will grant them freedom, just as Zillah is seeking. With the arrival of the caravan, Zillah sets off on an adventure that is full of danger and excitement.
“Zillah’s Gift” was so much more than I expected it to be. At only one hundred and two pages long, I did not expect to connect with the characters very well, nor care too much about their outcome. Lois West Duffy, however, has created a striking novella that is sure to capture the heart of all readers.
Zillah is a strong and smart young heroine who fights for what she believes in and isn’t willing to back down, even in the face of her elders. With her intelligence and maturity, Zillah is a good role model to younger girls. Her story is one of loss, but also one of acceptance and renewal. Zillah grows throughout the novel, and she is easy to relate to during the course of the story. There are many lessons to be learned from “Zillah’s Gift.”
Though I was a bit reluctant when I entered into this novella, I came out immensely glad that I had read it. As a lover of historical fiction, I was intrigued by the biblical setting, as it was one I had never encountered before. Even for those who aren’t religious, I recommend “Zillah’s Gift” for its storytelling and message. I eagerly await Ms. Duffy’s next work!