Saturday, May 13, 2017

Book Review: Buddy (dog, Katrina, New Orleans)

Buddy, by M.H. Herlong (Puffin Books, 2012, 304 pages, $7.99 Kindle, ages 9 and up)

“How Far Will a Boy go for a Dog He Loves?”

(And the question behind this question: “How far would you go?”)

Buddy is the story of a young boy of modest means, living in both pre- and post-Katrina New Orleans, who yearns for a dog. Constantly.

The little boy, Li’l T, and his family literally run into a dog on their way to church and decide to make him theirs.

How Buddy comes to live with three legs could be a memorable book in itself.

Ah, Buddy, . . . .

I could merely tell you the story of Buddy but I won’t – because I want you to read the book and enjoy it like my entire family did. (Perhaps that is why Buddy is marked as being recommended for ages 9 and up, rather than, e.g., ages 9-12) Buddy is worth it plus you can read the book in parts which makes it so easy to just set aside a small bit of time: with 37 short chapters, you can pick it up and put it down after a few minutes of reading, without losing the momentum of the story.

Buddy is extraordinary. Each chapter could be one part of a continuing serial, in the daily newspaper, for instance. Didn’t Charles Dickens do that? And successfully so.

I started up wanting a dog the day after I was born. (p. 11)

Lil’ T and Buddy grow closer with each day of living just like your family lives. Although Buddy is not quite a coming-of-age novel, Lil’ T does experience numerous situations that he learns from – from an Iraq vet to Katrina (of course), from the death of an old lady neighbor to neighborhood kids turning bad, from saving for a bike to mowing lawns to save for dog food.

And then there’s Katrina.

“. . . could be  you’re too crazy in love to see how ugly he is.” (p. 42) said Granpa T.

Lil’ T is a real little boy with a grandfather who lives with them, a little sister and two parents – his father being strict but loving and someone to be respected.

We don’t remember what Buddy looks like or how big the dog is but the cover illustration shows a Border Collie type dog. Lil’ T is protective of Buddy and almost becomes a neighborhood hero because he has the dog everyone wants.

(p. 122) “I can’t leave Buddy. I can’t not leave Buddy.”

Hard choices. 

There are not an enormous number of Katrina books, fiction or non-fiction, currently in libraries or bookstores. Perhaps she (the storm) is too recent in our composite memory, but now may be just the right time for a Katrina book written for those too young to remember, so they live through it vicariously: the uncertainty, the not wanting to leave, the not wanting to return, the loss of a friend perhaps, having to sleep on a cot in a large auditorium that is never quiet.

Katrina comes between Lil’ T and Buddy – for a few months, and then . . . the family returns to devastation and recovery work. And Buddy was lost. And then ­– the rest of the story is for you to live through: suffice it to say that Lil’ T grows and grows.

And when he gets a new puppy for Christmas, is he happy? Would you be?­­

What if he found Buddy only to lose him. . . .? Or to give him away?

The Final Word

Buddy is about a normal family and their normal life (except for Katrina). Buddy is also the story about a boy growing up with a bratty little sister, a new baby, a grandfather, and parents who are sometimes stern but always have their children foremost in their minds.

Buddy is about yearning and loss and finding and love and growing older or growing up just a little bit, and sharing, and family, and, of course, about dogs.

Buddy is well-written with perfect pacing, very readable for families as a group after dinner or for pre-teens by themselves (girls and boys). No wonder Buddy has received so many accolades!

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