by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Age: 8 +
Interests: dogs, pets, animals, morality and ethical dilemmas, country life
137 pages, 15 chapters
Also by this author: Alice series, Hatfords and Malloys series, The Witch Saga series, Besseldorf Mysteries series
11-year-old Marty is followed home by a beagle one day. It belongs to a neighbour, Judd Travers, who clearly abuses his dogs. Marty is desperate to keep Shiloh safe but his father insists they return the dog to Judd. However when Shiloh shows up in his yard a second time, Marty is determined to keep him, no matter what it takes.
This is a familiar, oft-told story about a boy and a dog, but I was impressed at the emotional depth of it and the enlightened way that Marty handles his problems. Throughout he wrestles with the moral dilemma of keeping secrets from his parents, and is sincerely pained at having to do so. He is also a terrific model for doing what you think is right, no matter what the cost. Marty is a sensitive soul, keen to the suffering of animals, and his desire to save Shiloh drives the whole story. He is also a wonderful example of what it takes to care for a pet, as he worries about the beagle night and day, and does everything he can to keep him properly fed and exercised – which isn’t easy when times are tough and there’s barely enough food on the table to keep the family going.
Above all, though, I was impressed by the way in which Marty deals with the despicable Judd Travers. Not only does he walk up to the man’s door and speak plainly to him, but he is willing to work extremely hard to save up and buy the dog. Judd works him like a mule, but even when he scoffs and threatens to cheat Marty, the boy simply doubles down and works harder, in the end winning Judd’s good will through his sincerity and effort. I like that the “bad guy” here isn’t treated as unredeemable; Marty even feels sympathy for the man as he learns about his rather harsh upbringing.
So in the end, this story is a familiar one, but it is well told and more complex than it appears at first glance. It moves along at a good pace and isn’t a hard read at all. A wonderful tale of the duties of pet ownership, the value of courage and determination, and how a boy’s empathy can include both animals and an irascible neighbour.