Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Book Review: Chester and Gus (autistic boy, chocolate lab)

Chester and Gus: Best friends. . . in training, by Cammie McGovern (Harper Collins Childrens, 2017, 247 pages, $16.99, ages 8-12, grades 3-7)

Is it too early in the year to select a Book of the Year for 2017?

We here at DogEvals loved Chester and Gus. We want a sequel, too!

In a Nutshell

Chester doesn’t pass his certification test as a service dog because he is startled (panicked) by loud noises, so he tries to make a career change into a companion/therapy/’service’ dog for an autistic boy - but trying to convince the boy to bond with Chester is another story. (Patience, my boy, patience.)

Other themes, minor, concern convincing the school that Chester is needed (and loved) in the classroom as well as the complexities of Chester’s trainer who really, really wants to teach Chester to read. (At six months, Chester could understand 50 words.) (The storyline about the trainer could have been eliminated, perhaps.)

So much growing to do by so many. . . .

We hear Chester talking to himself and thinking things through and even communicating with Gus, though Gus prefers not to (and also doesn’t like movement or touch).


The book is told from the point of view of Chester the dog: we here at DogEvals know that some readers are turned off by dogs talking in books but we love it when it is done well and author Cammie McGovern does it spectacularly well.

The Search

“Every dog has a weakness. . . . They’re perfect in many ways. . . The trick is to figure out your challenge as early as possible, then work on it a lot.” (p. 11)

“Wanting a job isn’t the same as being able to do it,” (p. 51) thinks Chester. He really really wanted to be a service dog and is searching for his life work and wondering if Gus is the person he was meant for, which may entail convincing Gus they were meant to be together as well as convincing the parents and school that he can really help Gus in a service dog capacity.

People Matching

When you find your person, you don’t have to talk. . . .

What We Didn’t Love

The author is mother to an autistic child so the scenarios with Gus seem plausible but McGovern is not a dog trainer: consequently she has the book trainer try to ‘cure’ Chester of his noise sensitivity by flooding. In other words, by exposing him to noises and hoping he will ‘get used to them rather than by systematic desensitization and counter conditioning (SD/CC*).

Gus’ mother also tries to pass Chester off as service-dog-in-training and eventually manages to do it the ethical way, thanks to her internet research.

The parents seem a bit slow on the uptake as far as their son Gus is concerned but having an autistic child is a learning experience. It's just that Chester is so much more tuned in to Gus. 

Chester and Gus is for. . . .

Kids, of course. And adults who may be in the wrong job. And anyone wanting or needing to learn more about autism (and a bit more about service dogs) and non-verbal kids, and siblings of autistic kids, and dog trainers, school teachers and administrators, and just plain dog lovers.

*not to worry about this new methodology - basically it is dog-friendly, unlike flooding.

No comments:

Post a Comment