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Monday, April 4, 2011

Notes From the Dog, written by Gary Paulsen. Random House, 2009. $7.99 ages 8 and up

"No, not the bar idea. The grandpa
idea. We should totally hit up the
geezers at his old folks' home."
"You mean the assisted-living
retirement community? Where
my grandfather lives independently
with his dignity and privacy intact
until such time as medical or
lifestyle assistance becomes

Yes, there is some of the humor we have come to expect from this prolific, honored and accomplished writer. That being said, for those who think that Gary Paulsen writes only wilderness adventure, hilarious studies of the male psyche or articulate and personal nonfiction, you haven't read Nightjohn, The Beet Fields, Soldier's Heart or this thoughtful and heartfelt story that is 'dedicated with all respect and hope to everyone who has ever faced cancer.' He is a masterful writer, and I highly anticipate each new book.

Finn likes to be alone. In fact, this summer he is planning on talking with ten people at the most. There are four on his list from the onset...his father (who doesn't talk much because he's busy at work and taking university classes), his grandfather, his true friend Matthew and his dog Dylan. That's it! Finn likes people, he just can't figure them out so avoidance is the best course of action. He loves reading, he doesn't have a job and the summer promises to be fulfilling and quiet. When Johanna moves in to housesit for his neighbors, Finn is intrigued. She is very pretty, likes to talk and she seems to like talking to Finn. It's not that bad!

Johanna is a good friend, and soon both Dylan and Finn are spending more and more time with her. She is quite the young woman, and she's battling breast cancer. Finn learns much from Johanna as he goes about creating the garden that she has plotted out for Finn's backyard. Often sick from the effects of the chemotherapy treatment for her cancer, she manages to bring Finn out of his shell and opens his world to a widening circle of people. Johanna and her family have an uncanny ability to bring people together in celebrations of life, and Finn becomes part of that community. As do his father, grandfather, friend and dog!

Johanna thinks that Finn is awesome and she works to have him believe it himself, even arranging a date with the girl Finn finds fascinating. Johanna's goal for the summer is to compete in a breast cancer triathlon and the two boys are her biggest supporters, raising money by talking with different groups (an activity that has Finn's determination to keep his summer contacts to a minimum failing miserably). They worry that her health won't allow her to compete, but they support her fully.
There is sadness obviously; but there is also great joy and humor, giving us characters to admire and remember, a sense of community spirit and a story that might have you taking out membership in the Paulsen Posse. I've long been a member and plan on keeping that enrolment active. 

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