There is a lot going on in this mystery/sci-fi/coming-of-age adventure about a girl and the charismatic dog next door.
When Professor Reese moves in with her giant, gray, shaggy dog, Baxter, next door to 11-year-old Jordie Marie Wallace, Jordie’s life changes in a number of ways: she’s always wanted a dog; she awakens to the lure of scientific discovery; and she experiences a number of “opportunities to be more dependable.” Dense plotlines weave together many intertwining threads, but it all fits together. A subplot about Jordie’s participation in a “Study Buddies” project and one about her circle of friends’ plan to open a hairdresser/vet/day care both turn out to be key to the development of her self-awareness. This is all back story to the main storyline: Jordie volunteers to walk Baxter while Professor Reese works on her research into the possibility of teleportation. When Professor Reese disappears, Jordie, her brother, and “magical” Baxter work together to solve the case. Clues to Jordie’s strengths and challenges are not explicitly articulated but are aptly shown through other characters’ reactions. Her relationships with friends and family are realistic, which juxtaposes cleverly with the speculative aspect of the plot. The book subscribes to the white default, with racial diversity hinted at in supporting characters’ names.
Happily, Kerley’s execution matches her ambition, resulting in a highly readable story that pairs a rapid-fire plot with a likable protagonist. (Science fiction. 9-12)