A boy learns magic and comes to terms with his feelings about his absent serviceman father, deployed overseas, with the help of a talking dog.
On his 12th birthday Peter Lubinsky asks for a dog —peculiar, given that he doesn’t like dogs. He quickly realizes the pooch he chooses has actually selected him, and in the privacy of Peter’s bedroom, the dog reveals his ability to speak and the reason for singling Peter out: The hound once belonged to a master magician (not the stage kind; he can actually do magic) who’s now evil (a side effect of working magic, which requires strong, often negative emotions) and turned into a rock. Now the dog must teach Peter magic so the boy can make the magician human again. With the hope that he might become powerful enough to bring his father home and abetted by two younger sisters, Peter embarks on a series of implausible, muddled adventures that don’t coalesce. There’s action and humor here but clichés aplenty, too. The main actors are likable, but characterizations are superficial, and Peter’s actions and decisions are obviously plot-driven. Eventually, Peter recognizes that he doesn’t need to channel anger to draw out his abilities, as the dog had advised, but that love works its own magic.
An interesting but strained debut with some appeal, particularly among undemanding readers. (Fantasy. 9-12)