From the Publisher
“I couldn't put this down. More than a dog story, this is a many-layered tale of loss and grief, hope and triumph.” Ann M. Martin, Newbery Honor winner and author of A Dog's Life
“Along with the emotional content comes the mystery of Dead End, with tension that continues to rise as Dill tries to determine if her dog is a killer, and, if so, how to save him.” Booklist
“Set on a Southern farm, the author peppers her story with homey turns of phrases and strong secondary characters . . . Willis, an author to watch, keeps the narrative tightly focused on Dill and her resistance to facing her grief. This well-told story, spiced with humor and facts on animal care, has a satisfying, appealing conclusion.” Kirkus Reviews
AGERANGE: Ages 11 to 14.
In this debut novel set in rural Virginia, twelve-year-old Dill comes to terms with the recent death of her mother while attempting to prove that her runaway dog is not one of a pack responsible for killing local livestock. Aided by her best friend, a boy nicknamed "Cub," Dill must also deal with her beloved grandfather's failing health and her father's withdrawal following her mother's death. There are a few poignant moments in the novel, for example, when Dill says of her mother, "And like every summertime I'd known, she didn't last long enough," or when she refers to her job at a local stable as a refuge, calling it "the one place where I don't keep expecting to see Mom." Despite these flashes, the author never quite hooks readers and makes them care about the outcome. Dill and Cub seem two dimensional and melodramatic at times, both in Dill's expressions of grief and in straight-arrow Cub's earnest platitudes. The rather abrupt opening scene does little to describe Dill and Cub, and both characters are difficult to picture even at the end of the novel. Although not necessarily far-fetched, the plot involving the livestock killings distracts from Dill's struggle to accept her mother's death. The author would do better in future work to focus on fleshing out her characters and keeping the plot simpler. Reviewer: Leah J. Sparks
April 2008 (Vol. 31, No. 1)
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8- Twelve-year-old Dylan is miserable-her mother has died, her father is working all the time, her beloved grandfather is getting sick, grown-ups are giving her pity looks, the rich boy at the stables where she works for lessons is being a jerk, and, to top it all off, her mother's dog is disappearing at the same time there are reports of dogs attacking livestock. She is totally in denial about her mother's death and the possibility that Dead End could be a killer. Luckily, Dylan has a true friend in her longtime buddy Cub, who has a more realistic approach to life. The author keeps readers in suspense about Dead End's fate until the very end, which drives the novel, although they will figure out that he is the culprit long before Dylan will even entertain the idea. Dylan and Cub are well-developed characters, and youngsters will come to care about and understand them. The author belabors her message of the need to face reality, and the book drags in parts because of it, but it could spark discussion with children dealing with difficult situations.-Nancy P. Reeder, Heathwood Hall Episcopal School, Columbia, SC
Willis's debut novel skillfully navigates the subject of parental loss. Twelve-year-old Dill Macgregor has been hurting since her mother died. She tries to keep her sorrow hidden away, but her grief-stricken daddy, Lyon, and granddad, G.D., keep at her to talk about her feelings. Then Lyon goes and gives away all of Mom's animals except one, Dead End the dog. Now that Mom's gone, Dead End has started roaming; Dill and G.D. believe he's looking for her. When farmers report dogs killing their livestock, Dill fears Dead End is involved. If so, then he'll be shot and there will be one less thing to remind her of her mother. Set on a Southern farm, the author peppers her story with homey turns of phrases and strong secondary characters, such as Cub, Dill's best friend. Willis, an author to watch, keeps the narrative tightly focused on Dill and her resistance to facing her grief. This well-told story, spiced with humor and facts on animal care, has a satisfying, appealing conclusion. (Fiction. 8-12)
Read an Excerpt
Dead End starts pulling again, yanking at my wrist. Mom had known. Right after Lyon and I made our deal, she’d taken the pooch to obedience classes, had transformed him into a good dog that didn’t run off. Everyone but Mom saw this as a flat out miracle, but her sixth sense about animals had told her that he’d become a devoted pet. And he had. Devoted to her, mostly.
That’s why, it seems to me, he’s started running again: because she’s gone. Our once warm and full home is cold and hollow, with sadness collecting like dust. Not even a day after she’d left us, the pooch started pacing and whining, pawing at the door of the master bedroom. If someone were to ask me, which no one would because I’ve made it as clear as crystal that I won’t talk about her, I’d say Dead End is searching for Mom.
I’d take off, too, even leave Virginia itself, if I could get up the guts to cut away from Lyon and G.D., I’ve whispered in the dog’s ear more than once.