A talking service-dog–in-training may relieve 13-year-old Grace’s crushing grief after her father’s death.
It’s a project Grace’s older sister Regan has begun merely to enhance her college applications. After choosing a dog from the animal shelter, she enrolls it in service-dog training. Grace, forced to help, naturally selects the rangy mutt, Rex, that shouts, “Pick me!” in a voice only she can hear. Rex insinuates himself into her life, an aimless existence since her father, a police officer, was murdered in an unsolved shooting six months earlier. Grace has dropped out of her own life, failing school and shutting out her friends. When a young gang follower Grace suspects was involved in the shooting joins the dog training class, she takes the opportunity to investigate and finds out—quite a bit too easily—who killed her father. Reisfeld resorts to telling rather than showing too often: “I needed to uncoil the knot of loss inside me, to unlock the dark cell I’d been living in since Dad died,” for example, resulting in a voice that never rings quite true. Other characters, too, seem trite, with the best voice being that of the enthusiastically inquisitive dog, leaving this an imaginative but not fully realized concept.
This dog tale will, nonetheless, appeal to animal lovers, who may “hear” their pets’ voices just as clearly. (Fantasy. 10-14)