CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 9 . . . . November 2, 2012
Jakob Nebedy, aged 13, has recently lost his parents in a car crash of which he is the only survivor; he has, however, no memory of the accident, other than recurring nightmares in which memories of the accident mix with memories of his parents as he searches for something terribly important. His aunt Laura, who has inherited and moved into the family house, is struggling with her own issues. These include, but are not limited to, her grief over Jakob's parents' deaths, and the two have trouble communicating in a meaningful manner. Jakob has always had few friends, but this summer his best friend, Grant, has moved to London, and Jakob is left with Libby, the 12-year-old daughter of the downstairs neighbour, Soleil, for company. While Jakob has always wanted to have a dog, his parents have never allowed him to have one, and neither will Aunt Laura. Jakob is told that he is not responsible enough. When nightmares wake him one night at half-past midnight, Jakob sees a lone dog walking down the street and decides to leave the house to follow it. The dog, Chilko, is friendly, and the nightly walks become a habit. Jakob decides that he will spend his nights with Chilko searching for the scene of his nightmares.
Nobody's Dog is narrated by Jakob, and while Jakob's thoughts revolve around his nightly searches with Chilko, the reader is actually brought to pay more attention to his daily (sometimes nightly) interactions with those around him: his aunt Laura, Soleil and her daughter Libby, Mason, Patrick, and of course, Chilko. Jakob's best friend Grant, while present through the emails he sends to Jakob, is a lessening presence throughout the story and serves to add a feeling of isolation as the emails become shorter in length and the content begins to lack relevance to what is happening in the story (showing that Grant is making new friends and settling into life in London). Imagination is required of the reader because Jakob is a troubled narrator. There are points in the story in which Jakob will avoid thinking about a subject, or simply lose track of his conscious thoughts. He is not necessarily unreliable, in the sense that his description of events is untrustworthy, but his descriptions will focus on the emotions that events and objects make him feel, rather than the events or objects themselves as seen from the outside. Therefore, since the reader is limited to Jakob's view of things, a certain amount of interpretation is necessary to understand what Jakob or the people around Jakob are thinking and feeling. This may also point to Jakob's own inability to understand and relate to what he, himself, as well as others, are feeling.
It is difficult to describe the character of Jakob and the tone of the book while avoiding the use of the words 'troubled' and 'realistic,' which bring to mind a certain angsty stereotype of a teenaged protagonist. While Jakob is indeed troubled and the treatment of the character is, well, realistic, he is far from an angsty cliché. Jakob has sudden bouts of anger, is more awkward around people he knows than around complete strangers, makes poor choices and acts irresponsibly, depends on his created persona, J, for strength, and is too uncomfortable and off balance to be anything but real. The people around him are similarly treated. Instead of clearly defined characters who undergo great development as the story progresses, readers are shown some average people caught "by the camera," as it were, during a part of their lives. As is more common in real life, there are no drastic changes, no wise mentor figure appears to supply guidance or save the day, and, by the end, nothing much is resolved. Aunt Laura spends most of the story being tired and avoidant, Soleil is never really explained to the reader, Grant may possibly just drop out of Jakob's life, and Libby can be downright tiresome at times. There is, however, a good deal of underlying affection between characters and several attempts towards friendship, healing, and communication, again, as in real life. As the ending of the book, itself, goes: "Not perfect or normal or easy. But okay."
Saeyong Kim is studying for a Master of Arts in Children's Literature at the University of British Columbia, BC.
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