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Posted June 23, 2010
In today's age of storytelling, it seems like every young adult book published requires wizards or dragons. I'd thought long gone were the days when the shenanigans of everyday 'chilluns' didn't involve a vampire, a witch, or a werewolf. Today's teens and tweens have been drafted into the service of international espionage instead of worrying about pimples, hygiene, and starlight. And how many suburban high school proms are every really spoiled by a lumbering army of bloodthirsty zombies?
Now, take heart, gentle readers: this is not to say that there is anything wrong with the works of Rowling, Tolkien, Lewis, Meyer, or anyone else. It's just to say that, while those writers have staked out their own respective territories, there's always required a uniquely human experience at the core of most childhoods. I, as a reader, find that lost a bit when the hero's mission is tied to saving life as we know it. How refreshing it is to find R. Harper Mason's able young protagonists, Richard Mason and John Clayton Reed and the dog Sniffer, worried more about comic books than Communists in LYIN' LIKE A DOG.
There's magic in this tale, but it isn't the magic of witches or warlocks. (This is not to say that the ever-resourceful Richard and John Clayton wouldn't have found some way to exploit a good spell had it showed its freckled face.) It's the magic of young people behavin' like . well . young people! These two boys run, jump, and leap off the page in one adventure in adolescence to the next, whether they're heading in the direction their parents would be proud of or not. They do right, they do wrong, they learn from their mistakes, they pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and rush headlong in their next caper. LYIN' LIKE A DOG is filled with the magic of character, and that's something that gets sidetracked when you're the teenage incarnation of King Arthur with the responsibility of saving the world on your shoulders. Richard and John Clayton would be far more concerned with how they're going to amass enough personal wealth to buy their first bicycles.
Author Mason's world is filled with boys and girls and dogs and bullies and tug'o'war and first kisses and holdin' hand and paper routes and cabins and kindly neighbors and forests and comic books. There's plenty of adventure. There's even a little gunplay that finds its way into these boys' world. It's a time of youthful inexperience, maybe even a little impolite youthful indiscretion, but it's all told with humor and a zest for inevitably doin' what's best. Also, it's a time when getting' a switchin' for doin' something wrong wouldn't be followed by a televised visit to Peoples' Court. It's a time most often explored by Charles Dickens and Mark Twain as well as Judy Blume and Donald J. Sobol. It's the inventiveness of not-necessarily-uniquely American youth, told thru the eyes of two young but lovable scoundrels and their sometimes sidekick dog.
(In fairness of disclosure, Mr. Mason provided me with a complimentary copy of LYIN' LIKE A DOG for the purpose of writing this review. I'm glad he did. I'm gonna run right out and buy his first book, THE RED SCARF, after I post this review.)