In the Gospel of Matthew, God categorizes his flock as either obedient sheep, or goats who lack faith and compassion. But people are not so easily summed up in Joanna Cannon’s debut novel, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, a gentle story about the damage done by the secrets we keep and the judgments we make.
The novel opens in the mid-1970s in a suburban British housing estate called the Avenue, on a blisteringly hot summer day. The disappearance of a local woman, Mrs. Creasy, has residents on high alert, and the rumors are flying. Grace, a precocious 10-year-old, and her best friend, Tilly, decide to investigate. They start with the vicar, who delivers a confusing sermon on the whereabouts of God. Given this start, the girls become certain that if they can locate the Almighty, Mrs. Creasy is sure to follow.
The spirited girls take their questions about faith from house to house, trying to make sense of the fragmented accounts and mixed messages they hear. What becomes clear to the reader, if not the girls, is that their neighbors are keeping a deadly secret—one that may have led to Mrs. Creasy’s departure.
The novel is told from the points of view of the innocent but perceptive Grace and six of her neighbors, including the absent-minded Dorothy; Brian, kept on a short leash by his overbearing mother; and John Creasy, the increasingly frantic husband of the missing woman. The Avenue, with its flawed but sympathetic characters living chockablock on the suburban street, is Cannon’s most successful creation, and one in which her insight into the problems of ordinary people is most persuasive. Part mystery, part coming-of-age novel, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep presents our complicated world with compassion and humor, seen through a child’s eyes.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a Q&A with author Joanna Cannon about The Trouble with Goats and Sheep.