"My dog, Maxi, dies," warns Timminy at the start of this friendship tale set in small-town Maine.
After preparing readers for the inevitable, the white boy comforts them (and himself) with memories of how Maxi—a huge, deaf Great Pyrenees—helped him to make friends and cope with a bully after starting middle school in a new town as a "shrimpy kid." Walking with Maxi, he meets Abby: the "blindest" and "blackest" kid in school, who has no patience for his troubles. The old trope of sassy disabled and/or black characters dispensing tough love is mitigated here by explanations of blindness and "blind talk": funny, surprising, and gross ways to describe particular qualities of what Abby can't see. Maxi—"a marshmallow in the middle of a big bowl of broccoli"—ultimately reveals similar qualities in her humans, finally coaxing sympathy from Abby and exposing a bully Timminy calls "the Beast of the East" as a nice guy, while Timminy learns to laugh at himself. Maxi's death may prompt a few sniffles, but Timminy's coping strategies could help readers dealing with the loss of a pet. A short subplot mentions MIRA, a real organization that provides guide dogs to kids. Each chapter is summarized by a "secret": an aphorism that applies to life in general.
Though purposive, this earnest boy-and-his-dog tale makes a strong case for Secret No. 11: "There's nothing so bad in the world that dog kisses won't make it better." (Fiction. 9-12)