A YA novel about two unlikely friends, their dogs, and the competitions that bring them and their community together.
As Manning’s (Hill Country Teacher, 1990) entertaining novel opens, Benny Neusner, a 14-year-old boy in Redding, Conn., is dealing with emotional issues stemming from his parents’ divorce. He’s enrolled at New Hope, a school for children with behavioral challenges, and works with his therapist, Dr. Kate, to learn to better handle his emotions. He also has a crush on Steffie, one of his classmates. During an evening walk alone one night, he discovers Bess Rutledge, a former champion breeder and dog-show contestant, in her barn delivering new puppies. This litter, Bess says, will be her last; she’s decided to close her legendary Umpawaug Kennels and give up on her dream of winning best in show at the famous Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Benny likes Bess’ dog McCreery, the puppies’ sire, and although Bess won’t give up her beloved pet, she does offer to give the boy the puppy of his choice from her final litter. He picks Breaker, a beautiful, brown male puppy that resembles McCreery. Bess agrees to let Benny keep Breaker at her house, since he’s not allowed to have a dog at his own. Soon Benny grows close to Bess’ adult son, David, and together, they plot to get Bess back in the ring. They eventually convince her to let Benny show Breaker at dog shows. Breaker does remarkably well, winning his first competition, and showing the dog becomes a form of therapy for Benny. Slowly but surely, both his confidence and Bess’ return, and the two decide together that they should take their dreams more seriously. Manning’s book is heartwarming and informative, and it offers an intriguing look at children who suffer from different behavioral issues. Benny’s crush, Steffie, is said to have Asperger’s syndrome, and Benny offers an elucidating description of his own emotional challenges: “How’d you like to have so many feelings inside they make your head swim?” The book also addresses the healing and therapeutic nature of dogs, and would likely be a great read for any dog lover.
A charming novel about a troubled young dog owner that will appeal to readers of all ages.