September 01, 2019

Harvey Comes Home

Written by Colleen Nelson
Illustrations by Tara Anderson
Pajama Press
978-1-77278-097-0
224 pp.
Ages 8-12
September 2019

A scent, a touch, a colour, a voice. They can draw memories. And memories can take you places. They can take you away from the present and towards something else. They can take you to a past that needs to be remembered or give direction to follow forward. And they can take you home in more ways than one.
 
Harvey is a West Highland Terrier who is left in the care of a dog-sitter while Maggie and her family go on holidays. While they are away, Harvey gets out of his yard and "His curiosity takes him farther and farther away from his home." (pg. 18) After several days away, scrambling for food, attacked by another dog, distracted from a rescue, Harvey is found by eleven-year-old Austin who helps his Grandpa out after school at the Brayside Retirement Villa. Though his mother and grandfather insist that Harvey's owners must be looking for him and that Austin needs to take him to the shelter to help locate them, Austin lies about his efforts, hopeful that he'll be able to keep the dog.

During the day, Harvey stays with Grandpa Phillip at Brayside where everyone, staff and residents alike, fawn over the Westie who acts as an unofficial therapy dog. But when Austin arrives, Harvey accompanies him on his chores. When the reticent Mr. Pickering takes a liking to Harvey, Austin finds the ninety-six-year-old man finally willing to talk and share about his past. He talks of his own dog, General, and of growing up during the 1930s. Though Mr. Pickering is sometimes confused about who Austin is, whether his own wife is still alive, and what Brayside is, he goes to a place of memory with Harvey by his side. As for Harvey, when he "sits beside Mr. Pickering, he drifts off into a place of contentment." (pg. 69)

While Mr. Pickering reminisces about living during the Depression and his complicated friendship with an abandoned girl named Bertie, Harvey's memories of Maggie are fading to elusive scents and sounds, Austin continues in his uncomfortable lies, and Maggie searches desperately for the Westie. Colleen Nelson's title may give away a happy ending for Harvey but it's wrapped in a complex tug-of-war of emotions as Mr. Pickering tells his heartrending stories about hardships and tragedies and lessons about forgiveness are learned.

Told in alternating chapters from the perspectives of Harvey, Maggie and Austin, Harvey Comes Home is not just a story about a dog lost and found. It's a story about the bonds between human and dog. These are the bonds that tie us in love and gratitude, responsibility and empathy. They are the ones that give us our humanity via our benevolence for others. But Harvey Comes Home is also about the power of memory to bring us home. I will admit that Colleen Nelson's story brought me to tears time and time again, as an aging Mr. Pickering grabs at his memories, as Bertie survives against all odds, and as Harvey and General are loved and love.  Colleen Nelson always tells a good story (see her YA titles Sadia, Blood Brothers, Finding Hope, and The Fall for a great sampling) but, in her first middle-grade novel, she is able to grab the reader's heartstrings while blending a dog story with an intergenerational relationship and embedding profound reflections on the Depression and the Dust Bowl. It's a complete package as Harvey's, Maggie's and Austin's stories converge, integrated with heart and important messages about connecting with others and forgiveness for mistakes made when scared, hurt or alone.

Harvey Comes Home will make dog-lovers hug their animals and children ask their grandparents to share their stories from their own childhoods, bringing all a little closer and giving life to new memories for all.
From Harvey Comes Home by Colleen Nelson, illus. by Tara Anderson

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