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A Dog for Life    by L. S. Matthews order for
Dog for Life
by L. S. Matthews
Order:  USA  Can
Delacorte, 2006 (2006)
Hardcover, CD

Read an Excerpt

* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

The way the press tells a story is questionable, and 'It's true that people like the most crazy story, as long as they can believe it.' That said, John Hawkins prefers to tell the story about himself, his brother Tom, and their puppy Mouse (so named because she 'squeaked like one'). So here is John's tale of traveling from the north to the south of England with Mouse - the people they meet, and the hearts they touch along the way. At the time, Tom was eight, and John about six years of age.

Mouse is a more-than-ordinary dog, just as John and Tom are more-than-ordinary brothers. Mouse can talk, answer questions, and provide advice telepathically, just as Tom and John use their minds to communicate, as well as their vocal chords. Tom's illness crept up on him, and the doctor advised that Mouse must leave the Hawkins' house, as she might worsen Tom's condition.

The boys assume that Mouse will die if taken to the pound, and Tom will not recover. They decide that John and Mouse will travel to Uncle David's house in the south. Of course, Uncle David doesn't know about this plan to request a temporary home for Mouse for a year or so and to return the pup north when Tom is well. Mum doesn't know about her sons' plans either, as the relationship between uncle and Mum is not copacetic. So the boys concoct an excuse - 'John will be at friend Michael's for the day'.

But 'The Problem With Plans and Life' is that they don't always work as contrived. At Highwick Station, the ticket price south to Dunchester or Axworth is 'sixty-three pounds eighty', but John has 'exactly thirty-five pounds and thirty-five pence'. So back to consulting the map. John chooses the affordable stop at Brigstow, informing the ticket agent that his uncle will be waiting for a phone call, and will drive to pick them up at Brigstow station.

Before John and Mouse departed, Tom warned his brother that there are all kinds of people out there, mad killers and such. Mouse offers, 'I'll do my best to scare off people who try to hurt John, so long as they are frightened of dogs, and I don't really have to bite - only as a last resort - and they aren't too big, and don't have axes or knives and so on.' Arriving at Brigstow, John and Mouse walk the paths, roads, and valleys. After John saves a three-year-old girl from drowning, she invites them home, where John and Mouse meet her artist mum, who is also an herbal healer.

Walking onward the next day, John and Mouse spot a disgruntled yellow Labrador, Barney, on a leash. His walker, Pete invites them to tea, and to meet Pete's animal-scientist father, who is currently working with wild ponies found on the moor. Mouse and John help the ponies escape, and then meet a youngster who looks an awful lot like brother Tom. In the midst of an angry crowd, John is asked if he was with them? 'With who?', says John. 'Gypsies!', say they. In the meantime, in a phone call to Tom, John learns that Mum met Michael's mother in the village.

L.S. Matthews' delightfully spun tale of A Dog For Life is chock full of resounding surprises. Matthews' first book for young readers, Fish, was named Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year.

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