Spending the summer with her bad-tempered aunt and her family is proving to be a trial for 12-year-old Jessie now that her slightly older cousin, Ann, has an unpleasantly self-centered new friend, Loralee.
Lonely Jessie decides to become the assistant of a misanthropic dog walker, Wes. Wes doesn’t care much for people, but he’s gifted with dogs. His relationship with Jessie is cranky at best, but the dog walking becomes the highlight of her summer. Ann ignores her, and to make matters worse, a talented (and cute) soccer player, Max, whom she befriends, falls for manipulative Loralee—who savors mocking Jessie. When Max’s mother, a novice dog walker, takes most of Wes’ business away, he and Jessie begin playing dirty tricks in order to undermine her success. Jessie takes on the burden of guilt—and then all of the blame—for these malicious acts, failing to see (with, remarkably, no other grown-up guidance) that Wes is hardly acting like an adult. Jessie’s caught between her concern for lonely Wes and an overarching desire to do what’s best for the animals. All the while, she seems to work hard to avoid the maturity that ultimately overtakes her in a feel-good ending that pushes credibility. Other than Jessie, most characters are only superficially developed. Max is described as having brown skin, but the book otherwise subscribes to the white default.
A thoughtful and fast-paced story that should appeal to dog lovers. (Fiction. 10-13)