Walking the Dog. by Linda Benson. September 21, 2012. Musa Publishing. ISBN: 9781619373426
Walking the Dog is a story of friendship between Sophie, the new girl in class with a history of abuse, and Jared, whose parents have forbidden him to spend time with Sophie because of her premature knowledge of sexuality. The two bond over their love for a new puppy who belongs to the school therapist, and their friendship later blossoms when they volunteer together at an animal shelter. Jared isn’t forthcoming with his parents, however, and he finds himself telling more and more lies and risking more and more trouble just to spend time with his new friend.
I have to say that the overall premise of the story - that Jared’s parents would forbid their son to spend time with Sophie because of her history - really rubbed me the wrong way. I can’t really imagine a set of parents who would blame Sophie for what happened to her, or assume that she would somehow taint or endanger their own child in any way. Perhaps such an ignorant set of parents exists, but the ones in this story seemed otherwise so normal and reasonable that it was hard for me to buy into their prejudices. By the same token, I found myself wondering whether the mentions of Sophie’s sexual abuse were appropriate for the book’s audience. Ultimately, I think the story requires some hints at her past in order to explain her behavior and Jared’s parents’ response to his interactions with her, but I think those moments are more mature than the tone of the rest of the book. I could see a third grader being interested and starting to read this book and suddenly being totally thrown off by the mentions of sexual abuse. The book just struck me as younger than its content.
All of those issues aside, though, I think this is a truly well-written story that conveys the complicated emotions kids feel when they know they’re doing the right thing even when an adult says differently. Jared is there for Sophie, no matter the consequences, and in return, Sophie is also there for him, especially when it matters most. Their mutual love of innocent, overlooked, and neglected animals mirrors their affection for each other and provides a great lesson in caring for the weakest among us without judgment or reservation. I appreciated the fact that Sophie’s bad situation gets a fairly positive resolution, but one that is still believable. I also think the story does a nice job of redeeming Jared’s parents, but the redemption felt forced for me since I didn’t really buy into their attitudes toward Sophie in the first place.
Discounting the brief passages about the abuse, this book would make a nice read-alike for some of Andrew Clements’s school stories, and for more serious, literary books like As Simple As It Seems by Sarah Weeks and The Last Best Days of Summer by Valerie Hobbs. It’s also a valuable story to share with kids who are overcoming abusive situations, or to kids who are trying to help friends in similar situations. For middle school kids who like Chris Crutcher, Walking the Dog is another fast-paced friendship story about a kid in a bad situation whose life improves when she makes a good friend.
I received a digital review copy of Walking the Dog from the author.
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