Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Dog's Way Home by Bobbie Pyron

Abby has a best friend, Olivia, but the person she really cares most about is her dog Tam. When he's lost in an accident far away from home, her world falls apart. As the seasons change, both Abby and Tam struggle to find each other and discover new strength and hope as well as the unexpected kindness of strangers.

I'm really not an animal stories person. I read all the classics as a kid - Lassie-Come-Home, Big Red, Old Yeller, etc. but it was never a favorite genre and I can't remember the last time I read one as an adult. However, there are quite a few kids who love these stories, and the sheltie on the cover is very cute (although I prefer the ARC cover with a sheltie running through the woods) so I thought I'd give it a try.

In short, this is a good debut novel, the author shows promise, and kids who want animal stories will probably love it, but it does have some flaws.

The story is told in alternating chapters, in first person from Abby's point of view then third person for Tam. Tam's is the simplest story as he struggles to escape from his crate and the river it falls into, then braves more rivers, animal attacks, being attacked or helped by humans, making friends with a coyote, and so on. Abby's story is more complicated. At the opening of the narrative, she and her mother are living with Abby's grandmother, Meemaw, on her small farm in Harmony Gap. Abby's father is a traveling musician with a band. When he gets a contract in Nashville, she and her mother have to leave Meemaw, the llamas Abby's mother loves, and the small town Abby's grown to think of as home to go live in the big city. Abby goes to a big school, makes new friends, and brings some new ideas to the city kids as well. At the end of the story there are hints that there will be more changes in Abby's future, but the reader doesn't know exactly what will happen.

In some ways this is a very classic animal story, especially in the chapters focusing on Tam as he struggles to get home to his girl. Abby's chapters are more complex, but the number of events and conflicts seems to be too many for the story. Abby herself is a strongly built character, but every time the reader starts to get to know her, something happens and another character pops into the story. We never get a really good feel for her best friend Olivia, her new friend Cheyenne, or the other people she encounters. Abby's chapters have a lot of dialogue and in a way more action than Tam's chapters of wilderness adventure, but the amount of change she goes through is a little bewildering. I also felt that the introduction of Meemaw's and then Abby's talent of Sight was an unnecessary complication to the story.

Verdict: I wouldn't recommend this to struggling readers, who would probably find the alternate chapters confusing, but strong readers who like realistic animal stories will gobble this one up. Recommended if you have readers who like such stories, especially with a happy ending.

ISBN: 9780061986741; Published February 2011 by Katherine Tegen/Harper Collins; ARC provided at ALA Midwinter 2011; Purchased for the library

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