September 08, 2020

Harvey Holds His Own

Written by Colleen Nelson
Illustrations by Tara Anderson
Pajama Press
288 pp.
Ages 8-12
August 2020

It's funny how a little dog can help people without even trying. (pg.73)

After Harvey's first adventure (Harvey Comes Home, 2019) in which he becomes lost, Maggie's West Highland Terrier is happy to be home, though he does miss the boy who'd found him and the people at Brayside Retirement Villa where he'd spent much of his "leave." However, seventh grader Maggie doesn't necessarily feel very hospitable to Austin who, though he'd cared for Harvey well, had kept her dog without looking for his home. Still, as she chooses to do her volunteer hours at Brayside where Austin works alongside his grandfather, the head custodian of the facility, Maggie will learn more about connecting with others, even those with whom she seemingly has little in common, courtesy of a little dog.

Told from the different perspectives of Maggie, Austin and Harvey, Harvey Holds His Own follows multiple plot lines, all brought together via Maggie's volunteering at Brayside. There she meets new resident, Mrs. Josephine Fradette, a spirited senior, who shares her memories of being evacuated from Winnipeg to her grandparents' home during the Red River flood of 1950 and learning car mechanics from her Pépère. This connection is especially meaningful for Maggie who is feeling isolated from best friends Lexi and Brianne. Meanwhile Austin continues to help his grandfather at Brayside and is thrilled to reacquaint himself with Harvey during Maggie's visits–though he'd dearly love a dog of his own–but is distracted by fears that his Grandpa is in danger of losing his job.  And then there's adorable Harvey whose nose will lead him to both crisis and blessing, and bring Maggie, Austin, and others together in an ending that will leave readers smiling, heartened and satisfied.

From Harvey Holds His Own by Colleen Nelson, illus. by Tara Anderson
I am always apprehensive of animal stories as I anticipate hardships like vulnerabilities, injury and cruelty, especially at the hands of humans. Unfortunately, these things do happen in reality and they always leave me emotionally shattered. But Colleen Nelson, with her compassionate heart and love for Westies–there is a photo of her with her own family's–gives us a story of a girl, a boy and a dog (or two) that will make readers happy, both entertaining and reassuring them that things can work out well in the end. And while many will be drawn to this middle-grade novel because it is an animal story at its core, there are important messages about courage and perseverance, friendships new and old, and even love.
Loving something always comes with a risk; that's what makes it so special. (pg. 245)
I had to take a risk reading Harvey Holds His Own because of my own anxieties. What I got for that risk was a lovely story–with chapter headings delightfully illustrated by Tara Anderson–that reassures that there are good people who will always do right by others, whether they be their canine families, seniors in a long-term care facility, or friends. And isn't it nice to know, especially nowadays, that there is goodness out there?

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