Be careful what you wish for is the premise of this mildly amusing novel about a girl who aches for a dog.
Zelly Fried, Jewish and entering sixth grade, lives in Vermont, where she doesn’t feel she fits in. Understanding her yearnings, Grandpa (a.k.a. “Ace”) ropes Zelly into using an orange-juice jug as a “practice dog” to convince her parents she’s capable of caring for a real one. Because she loves Ace—and because he’s an unstoppable force of nature (whose booming voice is rendered in large uppercase letters)—Zelly gives in. Taking care of “O.J.” isn’t easy, particularly cleaning up “fake poop.” Schlepping a jug on a leash and including it in various activities is especially humiliating. Why Zelly embarks on this scheme, let alone keeps on, will strain readers’ credulity, as will the delayed entry into the novel of sensible ideas, courtesy of a new friend, for showing that Zelly’s ready for dog ownership. Zelly does rebel at one point but then returns to “O.J.” in a predictable, maudlin plot twist. Characterizations are superficial, though Zelly is likable, and kids will relate to her predicament. Too many subplots also make for uneven storytelling.
Yiddish words and phrases and various Jewish customs are sprinkled liberally throughout and defined in a glossary, which might help the novel reach more than a niche audience. (Fiction. 9-12)