Two classmates set off to save the dog next door.
Hank Hudson has his strategies for keeping the a’a at bay. A’a, a Hawaiian word he happened upon that describes a type of lava flow, perfectly captures the “worst feeling ever” and “the thing he didn’t like about having autism.” The giant Holocaust tome that his class is reading aloud is just so sad, so terribly sad, that it ignites in Hank the urge to take a bold action. The scheme (which involves literal ignition) doesn’t quite go as planned, but it does catch the attention of his classmate Maisie Huang. Maisie is adamant about freeing Booler, a pit bull with “a lolling, happy tongue,” from a life tethered to a tree. Hesitant but empathetic, Hank embarks on a series of misfires and misadventures with Maisie to permanently untether Booler, including a made-up school project to get close to Frank Jorgensen, Booler’s human companion and Maisie’s elderly neighbor. With each attempt, the pair realizes not all is what it seems and matters are much more complicated than they thought. Debut author Finnegan explores the many facets of the characters’ situations and mindsets, including those of the secondary cast of older, mostly presumed white characters. In addition to Hank’s autism, Maisie, who is Asian, takes medicine for a condition disclosed later on in the book, and an aging body affects Frank. At times, the tension simmers, but readers will be invested in the resolution of the Booler story and the community’s human residents’ growing understanding of themselves and one another.
A coming-of-age story of friendships young, old, and canine. (Fiction. 8-12)