Secondhand Dogs

HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. Jul. 2021. 256p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062989185.
Gr 4-6–The pack of strays living with widow Miss Lottie enjoy a fine balance with anxious, three-legged Roo, skittish and immature Moon Pie, muscular bulldog Tank, and Gus, the aging terrier and wise pack leader, all peacefully sharing space with Ghost, the cat who mostly hides under the bed. The story opens with the arrival of new dog Decker; calculating, aggressive, oblivious to the comfortable agreements between the dogs and bent on securing all the attention and treats for himself. After a showdown with Decker, the other dogs escape through a gap in the backyard fence and take to the streets with Quinn, the teen boy who helps Miss Lottie, frantically searching for them. In the end it’s an angry confrontation mitigated by Gus’s discovery of his “dog gift”—love—that unites the pack and returns Lottie’s home to equilibrium, making way for the arrival of another new dog. A secondary plot explores Quinn’s troubled relationship with his brother, Jessie, and persistent bullying by Jessie’s friends. Third-person perspective shifts between dogs and humans from chapter to chapter. Flashbacks, with titles such as “Roo Before,” periodically fill in characters’ back stories. The text is illustrated with jaunty cartoon drawings, though final art was not seen.
VERDICT This is a breezy read with few surprises, but the light tension and heartwarming message will propel middle graders through to the very end. Recommended for upper elementary readers.

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