CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 18. . . . May 9, 2003
She [Erin] took a step backward, ready to bolt down the hall to the safety of her bedroom.
But Sheila Jones wasn't finished yet. "Yes, you do look like your father when he was a child. Only much prettier, of course." She turned to Erin's grandmother. "I say, old girl, you do know how to turn them out. Beautiful children and beautiful dogs." She chuckled at her own joke. "You've got that standard of perfection down to a T."
I'm perfect, all right, Erin thought. Perfectly awful.
Sheila Jones turned back to Erin. "I understand you're taking Blue into the ring this summer." She clasped her hands together. "When I judged dog shows, the look of the handler was just as important as the look of the dog. You have such a pretty smile and ... well, your posture needs work ... but if you improve that, I'm sure you'll score very highly. Very highly indeed." She repeated herself.
When Erin Morris learns that she has been chosen as one of only a handful of students to do volunteer work at the local SPCA over the summer, she is delighted! Finally she will be able to prove to her parents that she is responsible enough to have a dog of her own. Her excitement quickly turns to dismay, however, when she arrives home and is greeted with the news that her father has lost his job. While her parents try to sort things out, Erin will go to spend the summer with her grandmother. This means turning down the spot at the SPCA. Once she arrives at her grandmother's, there are many things to lift her spirits. It's wonderful to be reunited with her friend Cassie, despite the fact that Cassie has begun to change in the last year. And Erin's grandmother surprises her with the news that she would like Erin to show her dog Blue at an upcoming dog show. Perhaps this will be the opportunity to convince her parents that she is truly ready to care for her own dog. She throws herself into training for the show, but no matter how much she trains, she is still very troubled: Blue is the perfect dog, she is certain, but she, herself, is far from perfect. She is tall and awkward, and the other kids make fun of the warts on her hands and her hairy legs which her mom refuses to let her shave. Knowing that looks matter to the judges, she frets about how she will surely ruin Blues chances of placing well. Cassie offers to "re-invent" her, but Erin just isn't sure. Ultimately, with some help from her grandmother, Erin is able to feel good about herself and to proudly show dear old Blue. But then, after her dreams come true at the show, a terrible accident forces Erin to reconsider the importance of being perfect.
This book seeks to depict the uncertainties and self-consciousness of pre adolescence. Erin's concern about her physical appearance and her frustration when her mother says that she's too young to shave definitely ring true for any young reader of that age. The author very accurately conveys a real sense of a twelve-year-old girl's growing awareness of, and dissatisfaction with, her own body - particularly when she endures the jeers and taunts of her peers. Young people will also identify with Erin's feelings of insecurity when she sees how much her friend Cassie has begun to change in the last year. In fact, Cassie was a dynamic character who added much to the story.
Unfortunately, while her concerns may be very typical, Erin, herself, is not always a particularly strong character. She often comes across as sullen and feeling sorry for herself which makes it difficult to sympathize with her. The way in which she keeps flip flopping back and forth between wanting to "re-invent" herself and then chickening out is simply frustrating, and one is often tempted to dismiss her concerns as melodrama on her part. The grandmother is a more likeable character but is perhaps too perfect, especially in the way she handled the climactic situation that transpires with Blue at the end. Her gracious acceptance of the situation was just too unbelievable. The narrative also lacks a certain fluidity in the plot stemming from the fact that there are just too many minor crises. Instead of feeling immersed in a cohesive storyline, the reader seems to be propelled from one crisis to the next, without any particular sense of resolution. One major issue that is dealt with thoroughly is Erin's concern about shaving her legs, but when her mother essentially says, "if I had known it was that important to you I would have said yes sooner," it feels like all of the anguish on Erin's part could just as easily have been avoided. Most of the secondary characters (except possibly Cassie) remain very one-dimensional, and the true climax of the story doesn't have the impact that it might have had if the plot had been more straightforward and clear.
Nevertheless, while the focus of this book appears to be moreso on how Erin comes to terms with herself, its greatest strength lies in its appeal to dog-lovers! Beautiful Blue, the black lab, is sure to win the heart of every young reader, and her unfailing devotion to Erin is deeply touching. Moreover, when Erin witnesses the arrival of Duchesses' puppies and becomes attached to a puppy with a deformed leg, the reader shares in her desperate concern for the tiny, vulnerable creature. The image of Blue on the book's cover will undoubtedly lure dog-lovers to this book, and they will find a satisfying, if somewhat cluttered, story in its pages. It is, therefore, worth having on school and library shelves where there may also be a lack of books dealing specifically with that transition time between sixth and seventh grades.
Lisa Doucet is a children's bookseller at Woozles in Halifax, NS.
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