A teenager, sentenced to volunteer at an animal shelter, discovers her calling in this debut YA novel.
Casey Riley, 16, was excited about rehearsing her role as Rizzo for a summer production of Grease, but instead she’s been ordered to volunteer at an animal shelter by Juvenile Court. This is punishment for Casey’s revenge against Cindy Bender, a mean, rich girl who sabotaged Casey’s friend’s audition. “My emotions always seem to mess me up somehow,” confesses Casey. Or, as her father puts it: “You’ve always had a temper and stood up for those who need help.” Ron Parrisi, a kind boy with a lopsided grin, is in the musical; an animal lover, he’s also working over the summer at the shelter, and he and Casey become friends. Casey gets involved in caring for the dogs, discovering she has a talent for helping neglected or mistreated ones. She also understands more fully how stress over money affects the shelter, her own family, and even seemingly secure families like Cindy’s, as she comes to know the girl better. After weathering a dramatic incident in which she’s injured protecting a dog, Casey writes about the ripple effects of compassion, and begins to think her true calling is as a veterinarian. Though McKinley mentions animal neglect and abuse in her novel, she avoids anything that would be too upsetting for animal fans, focusing instead on rescue and rehabilitation. These scenes also contribute to characterization, showing Casey and her family at their best. Things work out a little too easily, for example with a convenient philanthropist for the shelter, but the tale remains thoughtful about money and society. Casey confronts the usual teenage problems, but she also conveys her deep caring for animals. And it’s good to see a YA novel where the heroine is more concerned about her vocation than about attracting a boyfriend. She and Ron like each other, but she’s not desperate for him, and that’s OK for now—a balanced perspective for a girl whose emotions can overtake her.
A nicely handled coming-of-age story, ideal for dog lovers.