In a first-time collaboration between father and son, the Paulsens supply alternating chapters of this attractively depicted road trip with a strongly upbeat yet never didactic message.
Fourteen-year-old Ben is, reluctantly, on a journey with his dad and border collie, Atticus, to rescue a border collie puppy. Ben is barely speaking to his dad as his father drops one bombshell after another on him: He’s quit his job and started flipping houses for a very uncertain living, and Ben probably won't be able to attend a promised summer hockey camp that he worked for all year. Along the way, they begin to collect lightly sketched but nonetheless vividly portrayed characters: Ben's friend Theo, who is facing some low-security jail time but is trying hard to get his life together; Gus, a pithy car mechanic who has a talent for judging people and engines correctly; and attractive Mia, a waitress and wannabe actress who has been fending for herself but barely getting by. To amp up the action, Theo is being pursued by a career criminal with evil intentions. Chapters are told in the believable, alternating first-person voices of Ben and Atticus. Dog lovers will especially enjoy the amusing glimpses into the wise dog's mind.
Given its notable brevity and Ben's age-appropriate, oft-times snarky, attitude, this should be an easy sell for reluctant readers. (Fiction. 10-14)