In this novel for older grade-school readers, a runaway abused dog joins a group of other rescue animals and finds both courage and her calling.
Bella (Goodbye, Poonjab, 2018) begins her story with a harsh flashback, as Misha, a little pit bull mix, remembers the cruelty of her former owner; she later ended up on the scary city streets “with nowhere to go” and “no family to love her.” Now Misha is sharing a car ride with Butchy, another rescued dog, to their new home in the country. The journey sparks a second memory for Misha—one of loneliness, terror, near-starvation, and injury, before a garbage truck driver took her to a shelter and a veterinarian’s care. (Bella doesn’t sugarcoat why some dogs end up in shelters; Butchy’s owners, for instance, were killed by a drunk driver.) Misha and Butchy join an eccentric group of other rescues-turned-therapy dogs, led by Tank, a canine Iraq War veteran with the personality of a drill sergeant; little Maltese Gabriella; and Coco, a former circus dog. The dogs’ caretaker, disabled ex-soldier Tommy, tells them that their “special duty” is to fight “depression with joy…and loneliness with love.” As Misha wrestles with fear and a lack of confidence, Bella invites readers’ empathy for the other dogs by giving them their own backstories. The author touchingly handles Misha’s realization that she’s worthy of receiving and giving love. Bella’s pleasant, full-color illustrations punctuate the text, adding homely charm. She also adds unexpected elements to the story, such as Misha recognizing Tank’s vulnerability during a crisis. Bella’s use of dialogue, however, is a bit confusing. The dogs speak to one another and to humans, initiating speech and responding to it. However, it’s unclear, as written, if the people and animals are literally conversing or if their communication is merely meant to represent a sense of mutual understanding.
An affecting work of juvenile fiction featuring memorable, sympathetic canine characters.