Sunday, August 10, 2008

Dog Gone

After a very relaxing summer, pretty much doing what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it, last week, I was in a class our district offered for 4 days. Wow! I forgot what it was like to be on a schedule. It was actually a very productive time, but I'm glad it's over, and I have exactly 7 workdays before I have to be back at school for real (any teacher knows that means I've been in multiple times already, but again on my own schedule).

So, anyway, I've been absent from our blog for a while, but now I'm back, and very appreciative of the fact that Bill had lots to blog about in my absence.

The book I just got done reading yesterday was Dog Gone by Cynthia Chapman Willis. I literally read it in 2 sittings in 1 day. I didn't want to put it down.

The story revolves around characters with great names: Dill (short for Dylan; the girl who is the main character), Cub (a boy who is one of Dill's best friends and a voice of reason), Dead End (the dog at the center of the story), G.D. (Dill's grandfather), and Lyon (Dill's dad). Chapman develops each character so well that the teacher in me could not help thinking about the wonderful class conversations we could have about characterization, after reading this book.

Dog Gone reminded me of several other books I love. Chasing Normal (my review) and Waiting for Normal (Bill's review) are the first two that came to mind -- all three deal with the loss of a child's mother in their daily life (in Chasing Normal, mom moves away, and in Waiting for Normal, the mom is never around, so it's more loss by neglect).

However, as I finished the last page, closed Dog Gone, and reflected on it, I realized the book it most reminds me of is Me and the Pumpkin Queen, another book I love. Both of these books deal with a mom who dies, and how the child (in both of these cases, a daughter) learns to grieve and deal with the loss. In Me and the Pumpkin Queen, trying to grow the biggest pumpkin for the Circleville Pumpkin Festival was important. In Dog Gone, it becomes essential to Dill to first deny that her mom's dog, Dead End, might be a dog gone bad (it is rumored that he has gotten bloodthirsty and has joined a pack of dogs that is killing livestock), and then to save Dead End from the fate the local farmers have decided he should receive.

Dill has gone several months since her mother's death without once admitting that her mom is dead. It is no wonder that she continues to be in denial about Dog Gone, and then again, when G.D. gets ill and needs to go to the hospital. The last time someone she loved (mom) went to the hospital, they never returned.

Because I tend to be drawn to characters that are so well written they seem real to me, it probably won't come as a surprise when I tell you I loved Dog Gone. I was drawn into the characters' lives, and really cared about them.

But the language in this book is equally engaging:

" 'Your dog stinks worse than roadkill, Dill,' Cub says, wrinkling his nose and puckering his face in a look that screams disgust."

"My stomach curdles. The hot, stuffy air gets thicker and hard to breathe as my fingers uncurl from the twine of a hay bale. I wipe sweat from my face. Hay dust scratches."

"The hurt let out of the smashed jar didn't suffocate me after all. In fact, the crying made me feel lighter, but also stronger somehow. Sure, the pain might still stomp me like an oversized boot, but it won't kill me. I know that now."

I loved Dog Gone on many levels: it made me laugh and cry, it made me care about the characters, and I loved the language. Certainly, it is a book that will stay with me for a while.

1 comment: