In Torres’ second entry in her middle-grade Project Madison series (Madison Morgan: When Dogs Blog, 2012), middle schooler Madison uncovers a dogfighting ring in her neighborhood—and learns more about her special empathic gift.
Madison Morgan loves dogs. She volunteers at her late mother’s friend Netta’s shelter, she’s starting up a dog-walking business with her friend Cooper, and she’s always on the lookout for mistreated animals. It’s easier for her than for most because she has a psychic connection with dogs; she can feel their thoughts, experience their emotions. Sometimes this is overwhelming, as with poor sick Millie, a skinny greyhound she sees chained outside with no food and dirty water. While at first she’s furious with Ben, Millie’s owner, she realizes there’s more to his story. At the same time, she’s training puppy Aura to be a service dog, making friends with Jonah, the Native American boy whose family has moved in nearby, and putting together clues to a new horror: signs of dogfighting in her town. She learns more than she ever wanted to know about the subject, including the existence of “[b]ait dogs,” given to fighting dogs simply to be wounded in practice. And Jonah’s uncle is helping her to understand her connection to the animal world. Torres tackles difficult animal-welfare subjects through Madison’s voice, which is largely engaging and believable (with the exception of the use of hashtags, which don’t quite work here). Madison’s love of dogs defines her, and her curiosity and bravery are winning. Debut illustrators Moreano and Stoner provide occasional pictures, whose strong black outlines and gray shading have a cartoonish charm. Torres ably distinguishes each character in her wide cast, including Madison’s widowed stepfather, Henry; Netta; Cooper; Jonah and his uncle; troubled bully Donald; and brusque but kind lawyer Mel, the owner of a giant Great Pyrenees named Puffin.
While some scenes will be tear-jerkers for sure, Madison’s (and Torres’) compassion for voiceless dogs may inspire action in her animal-loving readers.