An absorbing story of an 11-year-old boy from Los Angeles who, when his mother is incarcerated for organizing pit-bull dogfights, moves in with his forest-ranger great-uncle and his chocolate Lab in their remote cabin high in the Sierra Nevadas.
Writing in verse with an understated simplicity that quietly packs a punch, Engle compassionately portrays a boy who is struggling to leave his “pit-bull life” behind—though “the sad / mad / abandoned” memories of visits to his mother in the Valley State Prison for Women make this difficult. Soon after he arrives, Tony’s great-uncle Tío takes him on the first of many wilderness tours in which he learns about thru-hikers on the Pacific Coast Trail, trail angels and trail magic. And Gabe, a skilled search-and-rescue dog, plays a big and joyful role in helping Tony feel a part of things: “Gabe time. Dog time. Dirty, dusty, / rolling around in grass time”; by hiding as a volunteer “victim,” Tony helps SAR dogs practice finding a lost hiker and feels useful. Revealing both Tony’s and Gabe’s points of view in alternating chapters, the author deftly incorporates a fascinating mix of science, nature (cool facts aplenty) and wilderness lore into a highly accessible narrative that makes room for a celebration of language: “Maybe words / are my strength. / I could turn out to be / a superhero / with secret / syllable powers.” The Ivanovs’ black-and-white illustrations nimbly reflect the story’s tone.
Poignant and memorable. (author’s note) (Verse fiction. 8-12)