Hadley, 12, legally blind, angry, and not a lover of dogs unexpectedly bonds with Lila, a depressed pit bull waif.
Hadley feels as if she’s lost everything, and now she’s losing her sight. With her mom in prison, she must move to Kentucky to live with her estranged older sister, Beth, last seen when Hadley was 7. Accompanying Beth, a dog trainer, to Right Choice Rescue and wandering among the penned trainees, Hadley spots Lila, considered unadoptable, looking equally miserable. Observing them connect, Vanessa, the owner, talks Beth into taking Lila home for Hadley to train. Still furious with Beth and their mom, whose letters and phone calls she ignores, Hadley works with Lila and grudgingly allows Beth to guide the training. Her vision worsening (she has retinitis pigmentosa), Hadley eventually agrees to mobility classes. Learning to use a cane is challenging, especially while holding Lila’s leash in one hand. Her persistence—Hadley’s strong suit—is a plus. New skills breed independence and self-esteem. Hadley becomes less defensive and judgmental, and the sisters haltingly reconnect—then Vanessa, now Beth’s girlfriend, says it’s time to find Lila a home. (Vanessa is black; Hadley and family are presumed white.) It’s a pleasure to watch smart, wryly self-aware Hadley turn obstinacy into strength. From glum to stubborn and affectionate, Lila radiates doggy authenticity. A former Kentuckian and legally blind, Keplinger knows this territory, literal and figurative, inside out.
A funny, moving tale, at once unsparingly realistic and upbeat. (Fiction. 8-12)