During a bumpy period of adjustment to his newly blended family, fifth-grader Ricky Martinez is grief-stricken when his beagle, Bones, gets lost.
Ricky likes his stepfather, Mike, well enough, but his new, also-fifth-grade stepsister seems determined to make his life miserable. She uses every opportunity to make snide remarks and even joins her friends to mock him at school. Ricky has been doing most of the giving, forced to leave his familiar home, change schools, and agree to give up his assignment to the supposedly nicer of the two fifth-grade teachers so that he and Annabelle don’t have to be in the same class. Ricky is an even-tempered young man, but it’s hard not to respond in kind to Annabelle’s meanness. The tale suffers from a surfeit of exposition and is related entirely from his tightly focused third-person perspective, leaving him as the only well-realized character. That makes it hard to understand Annabelle’s hostility until she conveniently explains her displaced anger after getting injured on a school camping trip. Annabelle and her dad are white, and her barbs occasionally take aim at Ricky and his mom’s evidently Mexican heritage (also resolved in the aforementioned air-clearing conversation); otherwise, his background doesn’t play a major role in the story. Still, he has a warm relationship with his loyal pet, and the pain of the dog’s loss is believably portrayed.
A predictable boy-and-dog story with an ample ration of boilerplate family troubles. (Fiction 9-12)