Emma is surprised to find an intelligent friend in her new dog, Sadie.
After Emma’s beloved family dog dies, she doesn’t think she wants another. But when her mother brings home Sadie, a precocious Chihuahua, Emma can’t help but get attached. With her mother lost in her work and her brother constantly holed up in his room playing violent video games (her father is her only ally at home), Emma finds it easy to lose herself in Sadie, especially once she realizes Sadie is highly intelligent. Sadie progresses quickly in her lessons, moving from listening to Emma’s explanations to learning to sound out words in her own language to mastering written and other forms of expression. Plus, Emma finds there is much Sadie can teach her, with her superior sense of smell and understanding of the natural world. Beyond her home life, Emma is preparing for high school graduation, thinking about sharing an apartment with her best friend and finding a boyfriend, but Sadie’s arrival changes her life in ways she couldn’t anticipate. While it seems like an awful lot of random events occur, most are based on the family dynamics laid out in the first few chapters, making for a tightly executed plot. Despite the light premise, this is a heavy book: human issues like death and mental illness feature prominently, as do more canine-specific issues like dog fighting, puppy mills, and shelter life. The narrative focuses a lot of attention on the work done in shelters to help animals, clearly a concern of author Bauer (Wakulla Bones, 2013, etc.), who dedicates the book to pets and mentions the Tallahassee Animal Service Center. Sadie’s story also brings up broader issues, like the roles dogs play in the lives of people, what they need from humans, and how far humanity has come from its more animal instincts. There’s a frustrating lack of wonder about why Sadie is the way she is, although this question does come into play later in the story. Characters fill important roles but are mostly flat, falling into good and bad categories easily assessed by their smells. Nevertheless, the well-paced story brings up interesting dog food for thought.
A powerful examination of the dog-human relationship.