In Ezpeleta’s touching young adult novel, 11-year-old Emily finds that the best therapy comes on four legs.
It’s 1998 and Emily, beautifully illustrated by Glenn, is struggling with her father’s death. A forest ranger brightens her life by giving her a dog, but mom Diana forces Emily to return the pooch. Diana also wants to punish Emily for lying to the ranger about her family’s willingness to accept the dog, but the ranger saves Emily by suggesting her “punishment” be working for him. The dog, Lucky, proves her loyalty by running away from her next home and back to Emily. And later Lucky protects Emily from various animals, including an upset skunk. Emily takes Lucky to the vet to get the stench washed off, but she doesn’t have enough money to pay for the procedure, so she takes a job working for the vet as well. These new jobs give Emily joy and friends. One day, Emily falls and badly injures herself while walking in the woods and sends Lucky to get help. Ezpeleta paces this part of the narrative well, effectively building tension and drawing her characters together. She is also skilled at showing how difficult loss can be, as illustrated by Emily casual hope that a car will run her down. The strongest example of the toll the father’s death has taken, however, is Diana’s alcoholism. Diana has the potential to be a great, complex character, but unfortunately she’s not fleshed out enough; her role is largely either to fight with or apologize to Emily. There’s an obvious sympathy for a widow, but it’s hard for readers to feel it when Diana is so cruel, telling Emily that she dresses like an orphan. Another problem comes from another Diana; Emily’s father loved the late Princess of Wales and she figures prominently in the story, but she will probably not mean much to the book’s audience, who were either not alive or just born the year Diana died. In general, the Diana connection feels overdone; Emily’s parents are named Charles and Diana and Diana watches over Emily when she is in trouble. Thankfully, Emily makes up for the novel’s flaws. She’s smart, passionate, quirky and caring—a kid’s ideal best friend.
A fast-paced adventure with a protagonist that youngsters will feel lucky to have found.