August 18, 2012

Nobody's Dog

by Ria Voros
Scholastic Canada
978-1-4431-1913-9
150 pp.
Ages 8-12
Available September 2012

Reviewed from uncorrected proof

Jakob Nebedy, almost 14, must feel like a star (the celestial kind) just hanging in the sky, without any connections.  Well, at least not anymore and very few.  Six months earlier his parents were killed in a car crash that has left him without any memory of the event.  Although he still lives in the family home, his mother's sister, Aunt Laura, an ER nurse, is his guardian, and she's barely managing herself.  Luckily before his parents died, Jakob had made a great friend, Grant, who had given him the guts to be J-man or J, rather than Nobody, a nickname given to him at school.  But Grant has moved to England, and it's the beginning of summer.  If Jakob had had a dog, like he'd begged for year after year, he wouldn't feel so alone.  But his dad had always said Jakob wasn't responsible enough to care for a dog.

Not surprising Jakob gets recruited to hang out with Libby, the eleven-year-old living with her mom Soleil in the basement apartment, when her mom's at work.   While eager to earn a few bucks to save towards getting a dog, Jakob is very conscious of Libby's relentless drawing and her knowing watchfulness.  Late one night, when Jakob sees a husky wandering outside his house, he follows the dog for hours, even feeding it, but being sure to tell Libby it was only a raccoon.  The husky, who Jakob learns later is Chilko, the pet of Soleil's new boyfriend, returns night after night.  Jakob, who feels like Chilko "gets him", discovers that roaming with the dog provides him with opportunities to connect with others, recall times watching the stars with his dad, experience his bolder J-man persona again, and even trigger his memories about the accident.

In Nobody's Dog, her first children's novel, Ria Voros has managed to create a perfect middle grade read attractive to junior readers: eleven- and thirteen-year-old protagonists, an engaging dog, secret outings, learning about oneself, and an uncomplicated and satisfying resolution.  Nobody's Dog lacks the saccharine nature of so many animal stories:  the heroic feats, the gushy love between child and animal, the evil pet-hater from whom the animal must escape, and the requisite happy reunion at the end.  Nobody's Dog is nobody's 101 Dalmatians. Nobody's Dog is a sophisticated story of survival and friendship layered with memories, youthful judgements and everyday living, with a noteworthy canine presence.

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