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?
Soon-to-be ninth-grader Jess lives by the code her Army father taught her, holding his words of honor and duty close while he is serving in Afghanistan. She and her best friends Meriwether and Sam, who live on the same Florida Army base as Jess, are collecting school supplies and donations for a girl's orphanage in Kabul; Jess, who was adopted, feels a special connection to the orphaned girls. When a bomb goes off near the orphanage, Jess's father is badly injured and Meriwether's mother is killed, sending shockwaves through Jess's close-knit community. Her devastation is compounded by Meriwether blaming her for the tragedy, but Jess still believes in the work they were doing. Full of detail about Army life, Patterson's (The Other Side of Blue) elegant prose brings readers deep inside Jess's conflicted point of view and the many stresses she is under, as she reevaluates her role as a member of a military family. The conclusion is uplifting but retains the complexity of Jess's struggle to act in a way that reflects her convictions. Ages 12 up.