The fourth in Larson’s series about the Dogs of World War II shifts between a girl on the homefront and a Navajo Code Talker.
Leo, a young white Marine, has brought his Navajo friend Denny home with him from boot camp. As they hitchhike, Denny senses a whimper that leads him to a wounded stray dog the young men decide to take with them. At Leo’s home, his little sister, Billie, adopts the dog, naming him Bear. After the young men return to duty, the chapters shift between Billie and Denny. Orphan Billie (their mother is dead and their father abandoned them) has become a target for bullying, so she seeks companionship with Bear and her friend Tito, the young Mexican boy whose father manages her aunt’s ranch. Meanwhile, as Denny trains to be a Code Talker, he flashes back to his childhood time at boarding school. Well into the story, a jarring interlude from the dog’s perspective interrupts the story when he senses an old friend is hurt—this is Denny, who has been wounded in battle. The story is mostly Billie’s, and both Denny and Tito come across more as cultural informants than fully fleshed characters. Neither escapes stereotype: Denny sees Bear in a vision during battle, while Tito gives gardening advice and brings tortillas to the gringos.
A fragmented story that would have served better had it focused on Billie. (author’s note) (Historical fiction. 8-12)