Recommended for grades 8 and up
You know you’ve got a good book in your hands when the flight attendant has to say, “Hello?! Excuse me!” to get your attention (apparently, I missed the only rows that had seats left). Hey, can I help that I was that engrossed in a book?! The guilty book in question was A Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron. For those that don't know me, I’m a dog person—100%! In my family we have two dogs, Coco, who we spoil because she’s just so darn SWEET and Niko, my dog, who is just plain spoiled--it helps that he’s cute ;) Both dogs are big time tail waggers (my family calls it “helicopter tail”) and their smiles are contagious. :)
Anyway, now that you’ve probably figured out just how spoiled both dogs are since I just gushed all about them, I’ll move on to talking about the book. A Dog’s Purpose is written from the dog’s view point—in fact, you get to see the protagonist reincarnated several times. It’s really quite brilliant the way Cameron writes a dog’s take on life. The protagonist remembers his previous lives, so he applies his prior knowledge to his new situations. The protagonist starts his life as Toby, a feral dog. Eventually, Toby and his mother and siblings are caught and taken to what I first assumed (or was hoping) was once a rescue shelter, but ended up turning into a hoarder’s kennel. Toby is not long for that life and is euthanized. When he awakes he is reborn a golden retriever. In this life, a woman rescues him from the verge of heatstroke and brings him home for her eight-year-old son, Ethan, who names the dog Bailey.
Bailey’s story is the one that stuck with me—because to read just how happy a dog could be and how he “shivered” with delight from the love and affection that radiated off “his boy” is so heart-wrenching and joyous at the same time. The story of Bailey with the Montgomery family plays out with some drama. Ethan has to deal with a troubled boy named Todd. Bailey can sense darkness from Todd and feels when his anger radiates off him. There are several incidences throughout the book that involve Todd and students could make inferences based off what Bailey senses. The Montgomery story also involves trips to the “Farm” to visit Grandma and Grandpa (one of Bailey’s favorite places), a first love for Ethan, Bailey playing “rescue” Ethan from the pond, and Ethan going off to college.
Soon though, it is Bailey’s time to go (yes, I cried)…especially at this thought from Bailey, “…I hoped he wouldn’t cry over my death. My purpose, my whole life, had been to love him and be with him, to make him happy. I didn’t want to cause him unhappiness now” (p. 177)… Bailey soon woke up to discover he was now Ellie. Ellie was trained to be a search and rescue dog. Then when Ellie grew old and was put to sleep, soon the protagonist was Bear. I wasn’t expecting the ending, but if it wasn’t for the fact that I was sitting next to two strangers on a plane, I would have cried. A good joyful cry because there really couldn’t have been a better, more true-to-life, feel good ending to a book about a dog.
Good for teens who liked Marley and Me by John Grogan!
Cameron, W. (2010). A Dog's purpose. New York, NY: Forge.