A black Labrador dog named Alayna runs away from her family’s campsite during a thunderstorm and gives birth to four puppies in McNeill’s middle-grade novel. Alayna’s family misses her, especially Becky. When Alayna deems the puppies old enough, she and her pack attempt to find their way home. Along the way, they meet many friends, kind canines and owners, but they also encounter obstacles like storms, fog and predators. Their guardian angel, Luna—a creature of light who takes the form of a hummingbird—follows them and sends them other friendly animals and signs as they navigate a treacherous path. Meanwhile, Tessa—a lonely young girl who longs for a dog—moves into Becky’s neighborhood. Upon hearing Becky’s sad news about losing Alayna, Tessa launches a search party. Although McNeill’s debut is for kids, anyone looking for comfort and inspiration will enjoy the tale. Luna describes her world of green fields, sunny skies and endless beauty, with God watching over all—a garden variety but lovely interpretation of heaven. Luna’s role is as observer only: She follows the traveling hounds and observes their plight, but she only involves herself once. Despite the story’s strong message of faith, all the characters acknowledge that it can carry them only so far, that they must act on their own behalf with courage and determination to see their beliefs come to fruition. As Luna puts it, “testing brings great strength.” Too much intervention from their spirit guide would have prevented them from discovering “how brave they can be and how much they love each other.” Tessa spearheads the search for the missing black Lab, but otherwise seems superfluous. Black-and-white illustrations add a graceful touch. The story’s conclusion seems foregone, but enough trials await the characters to keep readers invested.
Smooth prose and a suspenseful plot further improve this winning story about the rewards of perseverance.