Most girls don't fall asleep to the roar of lions. Rachel Sheridan, however, is not like most girls. Rachel's parents met in an orphanage in England before moving to Tumanini, an African village, to open a missionary hospital. After losing her parents in the African influenza epidemic of 1919, Rachel is at the mercy of her plotting neighbors, the Pritchards. Although Rachel has a deep love for Africa, the Pritchards have nothing but disdain for the African wilderness. After the death of the Pritchards' daughter, Valerie, Rachel is ensnared in the plan to return to England.
Rachel is forced to assume the identity of Valerie Pritchard, a spoiled and selfish child who had been used by her parents to get closer to her grandfather's estate. As Rachel goes from her hand-me-downs to Valerie's fur coats, she never forgets the life she had back in Africa. Despite a bed 10 times more comfortable than she'd been used to, she cannot sleep in her new surroundings because she cannot hear the squawking of birds and the rumbling of lions.
Rachel tells her new grandfather stories of Africa in an effort to combat her own homesickness. Rachel and her grandfather are both birdwatchers, and they bond over stories of their bird sightings. Rachel, however, feels more and more trapped. She knows that the grandfather is very ill. If she were to tell him that she isn't Valerie, she is sure it would kill him. But Rachel isn't ready to give up being Rachel, and she still longs for her village in Africa. Can Rachel stay true to herself and help save the man she's been sent to deceive?Gloria Whelan's Listening for Lions is written in the same compelling style as her National Book Award-winning novel for young readers, Homeless Bird. Through subtle metaphor and vivid details, readers will feel as if they, too, have been transplanted from Africa to England. And they will be drawn into Rachel's dilemma as she grapples with the question of whether honesty is always the best policy. Tracy Marchini is a writer in Hyde Park, New York.