Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Case Hill, the 12-year-old Philadelphian introduced in Dog Years, has plenty to cope withstarting with his father, still serving time for armed robbery. So he can appreciate his best friend Ned's dilemma. Ned has been living with his grandmother ever since authorities took him away from his alcoholic mother in Texas. But when Granny is hospitalized and Ned put into foster care, he fears he'll be forced to return to his mother. "They like to move kids around, I guess. You know, like chess," explains Ned. Operating under a kid-like confusion about loyalty and responsibility, Case agrees to help Ned run away and hide out in a vacationing neighbor's apartment. Warner inventively uses the Hills' newly acquired answering machine to propel her story, opening each chapter with a recorded message from one of the characters. The author's grasp of heartrending situations and their effects on kids gives her novel a hard-hitting, realistic edge. Yet she balances the shadows that darken her characters' lives with witty, lighthearted moments. Effective characterization, credible dialogue and recurrent imagery neatly integrated into an affecting plot add up to choice middle-grade fiction. Ages 8-12. (June)
Children's Literature - Gisela Jernigan
Twelve-year-old Case, his younger (and often annoying) sister, Lily, and his loving, hard-working mother, have many difficult adjustments to make following his father's incarceration. Aside from limited and difficult communications with his father and having to move from a comfortable home to a cramped Philadelphia apartment, Case becomes involved in trying to help his best friend, Ned, when his grandmother/guardian is hospitalized and Ned is sent to live with a foster family. Case's efforts to hide a runaway Ned seem realistic and sometimes amusing. Case, Ned and the other characters are mostly likable and well-drawn.
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-In this second book about the Hill family, 12-year-old Case discovers that his best friend Ned Ryan is in trouble. His grandmother and sole caretaker is ill and is no longer capable of adequately caring for him. Case inadvertently tells his mother, and an amazing chain of events unfolds. After Mrs. Ryan is hospitalized, Ned is placed in a foster home and, afraid that social services will send him to live with his absent and incapable mother, he runs away. When Case discovers what has happened, he finds a temporary place for his friend but eventually realizes that he may not know as much about what is good for Ned as he originally thought. The interplay between characters is sometimes funny and always believable. Each chapter begins with a message left on the Hills' answering machine and in this way the story line advances. Problems that are presented may not be prevalent in most children's lives, but they are all portrayed with understanding and insight. The characters and their predicaments are refreshingly different and Case's mixed motives for helping his friend are realistic.-Carrie A. Guarria, Lindenhurst Memorial Library, NY
In this sequel to Dog Years (1995, not reviewed), Case Hill has a new set of problems to deal with, the most serious of which concerns his best friend, Ned. When Ned's grandmother, with whom he lives, is hospitalized, Ned is sent to a foster home. Fearing that he will be sent back to his mother, he runs away and seeks Case's help. Case is glad to help, but his motives are not pure; he enjoys controlling Ned's life, and is reluctant to give up his role, even if it might help Ned.
Warner puts in place some very good devices (each chapter begins with an answering machine message, there are comparisons between Case's maneuvers and a chess game) but never develops them fully. Ned's difficulties are always kept at an emotional distance, seen only from Case's self-involved and not very empathetic perspective. The narrative of this book flows effortlessly along, an odd combination of fantasy (Ned's problems are solved far too easily and neatly) and clear-eyed honesty (the examination of Case's motives is unusually perceptive). An enjoyable and involving book, it is somehow incomplete.