What's an 8-year-old with a working single mother and an energetic dog to do when her puppy's high energy (the "zoomies") threatens to try their landlady's patience?
The premise is appealing: Third-grader Latasha must give her dog (Ella, named after Ella Fitzgerald) some exercise, but she is too young to go the park by herself. Often, she's cared for by Mrs. Okocho, the landlady, who is from Nigeria and who isn't particularly fond of dogs—especially those that take an unhealthy interest in her garden, as Ella does. Latasha must use some creative problem-solving skills to put up with babysitting from Mrs. Okocho and to care adequately for Ella, eventually resulting in a near-fatal accident for the puppy. Unfortunately, this debut is marred by some awkward writing, including dialogue that seems more adult than third-grader, presumably in order to get across some admittedly worthy lessons: "But telling fibs is wrong and definitely not a mature thing to do. It can be really hard to make the right choice sometimes!" The length and vocabulary seem suited for preteens, making it a mismatch with an 8-year-old protagonist.
There are some bright spots, including a satisfying ending that's not too neat, but this is too long, and too clearly written with a grown-up's sensibility to have as much kid appeal as it could have had. (Fiction. 9-11)