In sixth grade, I had a mean English teacher with a prejudice against the poor kids. As in, one time we were supposed to come in costume as a character from a book for our reports, so I chose an outfit identical to the heroine of my book at the conclusion. The heroine was into really crazy clothes, but at the end she dressed normally and got a surprise when everyone else wore something crazy to school in her honor. I mean, I had a fluffy pink sweater and everything. Total match, just not a crazy outfit. Some boy in the class, who was the son of another teacher and belonged to the country club, wore a ball cap and a coat and said he was Sam from My Side of the Mountain, and he got an A. What is THAT? Also, she sorta creeped everyone out. She wore a wig which occasionally slipped, huge false claws, er, nails on her wizened, saggy-skinned hands, and lots and lots and lots and LOTS of jewelry. I’m not even using lots incorrectly. It looked like she’d bought several lots of jewelry at some old(er) woman’s estate auction (rich husband). Anyway, we all disliked her so much that we were thrilled when she broke her hip ice skating and left us with a sub for a few weeks. When we had to write and illustrate poems, one boy wrote a humorous poetic retelling of her tragic accident, and it won the class favorite vote unanimously.
As far as I can recall, her only good quality was decent taste in kid lit. She foisted my first Gary Paulsen novel, Hatchet, upon our class. I didn’t get into Paulsen to the point that I read his entire backlist, but I did read the other Brian books. I think it’s cool that he’s withstood the test of time and is still publishing today, and still winning awards at that. As a grown up, I really love his writings about dogs, especially his memoir My Life in Dog Years. Great book! So of course when I saw that he and his son had a novel about dogs coming out, and about border collie rescue at that, I jumped on it. Join me on a…
Road Trip by Gary Paulsen and Jim Paulsen
Wendy Lamb Books, 128 pg, ISBN-10 0375990313, January 8, 2013
Dad and Ben haven’t been getting along recently and Dad hopes a road trip to rescue a border collie will help them reconnect. But Ben is on to Dad’s plan and invites Ben’s thuggish buddy, Theo. The family dog, Atticus, comes along too and the story is told by Ben and Atticus. When their truck breaks down, they commandeer an old school bus, along with its mechanic, Gus. Next, they pick up Mia, a waitress escaping a tense situation. Only sharp-eyed Atticus realizes that Theo is on the run—and someone is following them.
This book is SO squee.
First, I want to point out that the reason their family dog Atticus (naming my next dog that) is so “sharp-eyed” is that he, like the puppy they’re trying to rescue, is a border collie, a.k.a. the BEST breed ever…as long as you have the space and time to handle one. The Paulsens, who are extremely familiar with the breed, have this dog so perfectly written, I cannot begin to explain it. Everything the dog does in the story is so authentic, from blocking the moon-eyed boys from sitting near Mia, who he has claimed as his, to checking over and licking a strange kitten to make sure all is in order. Even better, chapters in Ben’s voice alternate with one-page commentary from Atticus himself, and if you’ve ever had border collies, you will read Atticus’s inner monologue and say, “That is EXACTLY how (insert border collie name here) would talk if he could!” In other words, Atticus sees everything and considers it all his responsibility. That’s not to say he’s perfect; he’s extremely prejudiced against the idea of getting a dog (a species he doesn’t consider himself part of) and is possessive of people he likes. Again, typical border collie. They want all humans to belong to them, but not to each other, thank you so much.
Of course, this story isn’t really about Atticus or even about rescuing a puppy. This story is about a father and son who don’t see eye to eye and a crazy road trip that involves picking up strangers, fending off thugs, and an impromptu race with a cop who wants to know whether his cruiser can beat the bus’s top speed. Very much a traditional Paulsen boy book, it’s about a boy, and it’s filled with boy thoughts: hockey! engines! looking cool in front of girls without letting them know you like them! wanting to run with the dangerous crowd! However, the female characters are strong and capable, and when you add in the awesome dog aspect, girls are going to also eat this book up.
I’d definitely characterize the story as a romp. The plot is too neat and tidy, and some events are too serendipitous, but it’s so fun that I didn’t care. Ben’s anger at his dad and his eventual realization that he’s worried about the wrong things are completely believable.
While this story is nowhere near as strong as Paulsen at his best, it is of course still a great read. It’s Paulsen! The fact that his son cowrote it adds authenticity to the story’s father-son dynamic, too. I give it two paws up.
To buy or not to buy?: Are you dense? It’s Gary Paulsen AND it’s an animal story. Buy it.
Recommend to: Animal lovers, Paulsen fans, and oh yeah, the brevity makes it great for reluctant readers
Don’t recommend to: Highly sophisticated readers who want a complex plot