Feiwel and Friends, $16.99 hardbound, ISBN-10 0312643004, October 2014
Rose Howard has OCD, Asperger’s syndrome, and an obsession with homonyms (even her name is a homonym). She gave her dog Rain a name with two homonyms (Reign, Rein), which, according to Rose’s rules of homonyms, is very special. Rain was a lost dog Rose’s father brought home. Rose and Rain are practically inseparable. And they are often home alone, as Rose’s father spends most evenings at a bar, and doesn’t have much patience for his special-needs daughter. Just as a storm hits town, Rain goes missing. Rose’s father shouldn’t have let Rain out. Now Rose has to find her dog, even if it means leaving her routines and safe places to search. Rose will find Rain, but so will Rain’s original owners.
Rose loves homonyms. Rose loves prime numbers. Rose (rows) loves Rain (reign), a little blonde dog with seven white (wight) toes (tows) that her father found behind his favorite bar (barre). But when her father, an angry alcoholic, lets Rain outside during a hurricane with no collar, Rain disappears. Rose frantically searches for her, eventually finding her. Unfortunately, all does not end happily. The shelter that takes Rain in scans her for a microchip and finds one. Rain has owners, a family who love her and want her back badly. Rose loves Rain, but Rose also believes in following the rules, and Rain isn’t really hers. Her eventual decision makes complete sense for the character, but it also makes this the saddest dog book ever in which the dog does not tragically die. Ever. EVER. Side note: This book scared me a little because we recently adopted a rescue dog. He was dumped at our local shelter. The chances that his actual owners did the dumping are high, but I know that it’s not unusual for neighbors to steal dogs they find annoying and ditch them at a shelter, hoping the owner won’t catch on. The dog we adopted was not found to be microchipped (as Rain is in the story), but I have this recurring fear that we’ll be out on a walk and run into someone who says, “You found my dog! He was stolen!” and that they will want me to give him back. So the point of this long side note is that kids with rescue dogs might feel a little iffy about Rose losing Rain to her “real” family.
The autism spectrum is a hot topic in fiction right now, but Martin goes out of her way to make Rose realistic instead of charmingly quirky, and the character is all the more lovable for it. Rose remains resilient and true to her own compass, winning over classmates whose first instinct is to mock her and weathering the storms of her father’s outbursts. Be warned before recommending this one that it contains a good deal of parental verbal abuse and one incident of physical abuse, and that readers young and old will want to reach into the book and pull Rose out of the path of Hurricane Rose’s Dad. Some readers may also be put off by the frequent homonym insertions in sentences throughout the book, as exemplified in my third full sentence of this review. However, the gimmick does add to Rose’s character development, and she’s so lovingly crafted, so rigid and yet so vulnerable, that I double-dog-dare you not to root for her.
Recommend to: Fans of contemporary middle grade drama, fans of the sad dog story
To buy or not to buy: Highly recommended