A Dog’s Way Home, by Bobbie Pyron. HarperCollins, 2011. 321 pp.
Reading Level: Middle grades, ages 8-10
Recommended for: ages 10-12
Bottom line: When Abby and her champion Sheltie, Tam, are separated by an accident, Tam must find his own way back through the southeastern wilderness.
Life would be perfect for 12-year-old Abby Whistler if only her dad were home more often, but as a country musician he’s usually on the road. Home is the North Carolina mountains, with her mother, grandmother, and soulmate Tam: a miniature Sheltie who is not only loyal but brilliant. Abby and her mom are driving home from the Southeast Virginia Junior Agility Competition when their pickup hits a deer and Tam’s crate is thrown down a rocky bluff and into a creek. Sustaining minor injuries, Abby is frantic to find her dog, but he seems to have escaped the crate, leaving his tags behind. The family posts fliers in the area, but the camping season is over, winter is coming on, and they can’t stay in Virginia. The prospects of ever finding Tam are slim, but the dog is possessed by the memory of “his girl” and the instinct that he must go south.
Alternating chapters shift between Abby’s story and Tam’s until they come together again. You know they will, but the narrow escapes and missed opportunities and lagging spirits and sudden hopes lead the reader on quite an obstacle course before that happens. The journey is not Tam’s alone; it’s Abby’s too. Her family undergoes a dramatic change when her dad gets a recording contract and they move to Nashville, away from the mountains and her small-town, down-home friends. She ends up adapting a little too easily, and her friendship with the daughter of a country music star stretches belief as well, but not enough sever the reader’s sympathy.
A glance at the cover will immediately call Lassie Come Home and The Incredible Journey to mind, but that’s okay–the author makes that connection herself. The Tam chapters are authentic and compelling. Who knows what really goes on in a dog’s head, but Tam’s efforts to adapt to life in the wild sounds authentic, and not pretty. Any romantic notions about beneficent nature should be amended by the story’s end, when Tam’s emaciated, infected, bleeding and mangy body limps out of the woods. It might make you think about how Jesus finds his lost sheep–limping, battered, sore and sick. Abby doesn’t give up. Neither does Jesus–He will search until we are found, because we belong to him, like Tam belongs to her. Early in the book a character remarks, “My mom often said that love creates miracles.” Well, yes. The greatest love can even raise the dead.
Cautions: Language (two instances of taking the Lord’s name in vain, though one might be a prayer), Worldview (extra-sensory perception)
Overall rating: 3.75 (out of 5)
- Worldview/moral value: 3.5
- Artistic value: 4
Categories: Realistic Fiction, Animal Stories, Middle Grades, Discussion Starter*, Read Alouds, Life Issues
- Thematic element: Abby’s dad tells her that “Most folks got a north star in their life–something that gives their life extra meaning. Mine is music.” What’s Abby’s? What’s yours?
- Literary element: How does Abby make use of maps? Could you make a map about something dramatic or life-changing that happened to you?
- Worldview element: How does Luke 15:3-7 pertain to this story?