Get a free SCARS short story. Sign up for News & Goodies from YA Author Cheryl Rainfield



My Books
See Next Book
STAINED book cover

Sarah, a teen with a port-wine stain and body image issues, is abducted, and must find a way to rescue herself.

“Powerful. I raced through it, wanting to know if Sarah would find a way to escape both her captor and her self-doubts. A real nail-biter!“
- April Henry, NY Times bestselling author of The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die

SCARS book cover

Kendra must face her past and stop hurting herself--before it's too late.

Awards: #1 in the Top 10 ALA Quick Picks, ALA's Rainbow List, a Governor General Literary Award Finalist, Staff Pick for Teaching Tolerance.

Yes, it's my own arm on the cover of SCARS.

HUNTED book cover

Caitlyn, a telepath in a world where having any paranormal power at all can kill her, must decide between saving herself or saving the world.

Awards: A finalist for the Monica Hughes Award for Science Fiction and Fantasy, and the Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Award.

PARALLEL VISIONS book cover

Kate sees visions of the future--but only when she has an asthma attack. When she "sees" her sister being beaten, and a schoolmate killing herself, Kate must trigger more attacks--but that could kill her.

Awards: 2013 Gold Winner, Wise Bear Digital Awards, YA Paranormal category.

STAINED book cover

Sarah, a teen with a port-wine stain and body image issues, is abducted, and must find a way to rescue herself.

“Powerful. I raced through it, wanting to know if Sarah would find a way to escape both her captor and her self-doubts. A real nail-biter!“
- April Henry, NY Times bestselling author of The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die

See Previous Book

Love my books?
Join my Street Team!

You'll have my deep gratitude, hear book news first, get swag, and enter to win private contests

Great Middle Grade Books


Smart Dog

Review

Smart Dog
by Vivian Vande Velde
Magic Carpet Books, Harcourt (reprint),(October 2007)
ISBN-10: 0152061722
ISBN-13: 9780152061722

My rating:



On this particular spring morning as Amy walked to school, she was well within her schedule when she saw a dog sitting on the sidewalk. It was a medium-sized dog with floppy ears and big brown eyes and long fur that was equal parts brown and white and black.
"Excuse me," the dog said just as Amy was about to step around him. "I'm in trouble. Could you please help me?"
Amy stopped, panicked--not because she was afraid, for the dog wasn't scary--but because she had no idea how to react. She knew dogs didn't talk, but probably the last thing she would have expected a dog to say if it could talk was "Excuse me" and "Please." She wouldn't have guessed that a dog would be so polite.
--Smart Dog by Vivian Vande Velde, p. 2.

What would you do if you were walking to school and a dog suddenly spoke to you, asking you for help? Would you be so surprised that you wouldn't be able to believe it, or would you listen? Amy listens, and discovers that the F-32, who she renames as Sherlock, is on the run from a doctor at a college who wants to dissect his brain to see how it works. Sherlock's been part of some lab experiments that made him smarter, but he doesn't want to die. So Amy helps to hide him, overcoming many obstacles in the process and making some new friends, and Sherlock helps her to stand up to a class bully. Smart Dog is a wonderfully funny, light-hearted, and inspiring book--a really enjoyable read.

Vande Velde (Heir Apparent, A Well-Timed Enchantment)writes masterfully, drawing the reader in right away and not letting them go until the very last word. The good feeling, worry for the characters, humor, and plot events push the reader quickly forward. Vande Velde evokes reader identification and sympathy for Amy right away, as the reader learns on the second page that Amy is teased and bullied by a popular girl at school, is not one of the in-crowd (as so many children aren't), and is insecure. Amy is an immediately likable character--she has a good heart, is kind to others, and is compassionate, unlike the bully (Kathryn) and the villain (Dr. Boden). The contrast in behavior also underscores just how much kinder Amy is. Sherlock, too, is also kind, which helps the reader root for both Amy and Sherlock.

Vande Velde brings the fantasy element into the story right on the second page, not making readers wait for it. I think this is a strong move that works well; readers like to know what type of book they're reading, and whether it will be worth the time spent reading. Many readers have less and less patience with waiting to find out, so Vande Velde's text quickly satisfies. Readers quickly discover that Sherlock is a very special dog; not only can he talk, but he taught himself how to use the computer (by watching the students at the lab, and then by using a pencil held in his teeth to press the keys), he can spell, he can work through problems, and he is kind and loyal to the people who are kind to him. Despite Sherlock's ability to talk, Vande Velde succeeds in making readers believe that he is a dog through his child-like innocence and his dog-like behavior (such as wedging his head between Amy's arms so that she has to pat him, or liking how another dog smells).

Vande Velde captured Kaitlyn, the girl bully, really well, showing realistic emotional manipulation, taunting, and laughing at Amy, while fooling many adults around her. Vande Velde shows us Kaitlyn's bullying behavior and allows us to understand it for ourselves, and through this example, creates greater sympathy for Amy. Vande Velde also captured the feeling of the child who's left out, teased, or on the outskirts of a group, making the experience vivid and believable. She knows her craft well--she does not make the bullying so horrible that it stops you reading, and she makes sure that that there are many rewards for readers--happy, uplifting moments as Amy gains friends, finds acceptance, is compassionate with others, and is the true hero in the book, and as others stand up for and help Amy. This will strike a deep chord for any child being bullied or having experienced bullying and the feeling of being left out, and it gives the book an emotional appeal. The humor throughout the text helps to balance out the bullying and tension and keeps it from becoming too painful.

There are places where the reader can see more clearly than Amy can, and before she does, what is going on (such as that Sister Mary Grace is not fooled by Kaitlyn, like the other teachers are). Some readers may enjoy this feeling. Depth and thoughtfulness are twined throughout the text, less obvious than the humor but a strong thread.

Vande Velde never overwrites or over-explains, allowing readers to come to their own conclusions. At times she shows us the subtext or gives the reader extra clues to make something clear (such as with the villain, Dr. Boden), but Vande Velde shows us cleverly, through Amy's observations of the difference between someone's actions or speech, and what they seem to be really thinking or feeling. Vande Velde slowly increases and builds on the tension, which, although alleviated by the humor, should keep readers flipping the pages. Plot points are all neatly linked together, following each other so that everything makes sense.

The reader sees Amy change and grow, moving from insecure and unconfident to, as Sherlock depends on her for his safety, more sure of herself, bold, and challenging, yet still compassionate and good hearted. Amy has small triumphs along the way, which help the reader bond with Amy, cheer for her, and feel good. Amy's and Sherlock's relationship also brings good feeling; they each give something to each other. Amy helps protect Sherlock from an early death, and Sherlock helps bring Amy some friends and greater acceptance with her peers. Both learn from each other and protect each other.

There is so much humor in the book that works really well, from some of Amy's reactions and opinions (such as Amy, instead of being surprised that Sherlock can talk is surprised that he is polite because he's a dog), to Sherlock's lack of understanding of how some things work in the world outside his lab which contrasts with his great intelligence (such as when he thinks that fish can talk and attend school because of the saying "schools of fish"). The children's joint manipulation of their parents (so that the parents won't suspect Sherlock or make him go back to the lab) and the misunderstandings that ensue becomes hilarious, especially because the reader is in on the joke.

There were only a few brief places where Amy's language or insight felt adult or unrealistic, such as when she wonders if people are only around Kaitlyn, the bully, so they'll lessen the chances of their being teased themselves.

The villain, Dr. Boden, is written well; he's clearly cold and aggressive, but he's not over-the-top. It's also a relief to find that there is a reasonable adult in the ending who sees the bully and villain for what they are, and helps to save the day; not all of the adults are mean or insensitive or out of it; Dr. Shieber ends up being a real ally.

The ending is satisfying and enjoyable, as Amy and Sherlock get to remain together, each finding greater happiness and acceptance, and having overcome all their obstacles. Smart Dog may be particularly reassuring to readers, since the bully gets her comeupance, the villain is dealt with appropriately, and good wins out in the end.

Smart Dog is an enjoyable fantasy and a very satisfying read. It is a warm, feel good, laugh-out-loud book.

Highly recommended.

-Added October 28, 2007


Want more books?

Go back to Fantasy & Magic to find great Great Middle Grade Books.

Or, go to Great Middle Grade Books to see all of the books.