4.0 10
by Kathe Koja

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Rachel is happiest when she's volunteering at the animal shelter, especially after she meets the feral collie she names Grrl; they're both angry and alone. When a teacher encourages her to write about it, Rachel finds another outlet for her pain and frustration. But writing about Grrl is much easier than teaching Grrl to trust her. And when Griffin, the new boy in


Rachel is happiest when she's volunteering at the animal shelter, especially after she meets the feral collie she names Grrl; they're both angry and alone. When a teacher encourages her to write about it, Rachel finds another outlet for her pain and frustration. But writing about Grrl is much easier than teaching Grrl to trust her. And when Griffin, the new boy in school, devises a plan to spring Grrl from the shelter and bring her home, Rachel finds that the dog isn't the only one who must learn to trust.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Rachel, a high school misfit, feels an instant kinship with a feral collie. "The author plumbs not only Rachel's dark and darkly funny psyche, but also what it means to be human and to make connections of love and trust," wrote PW. Ages 12-up. (Mar.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Rachel finds it much easier to relate to the animals at the shelter where she volunteers than to her high school classmates. She is particularly fond of dogs, and when a vicious stray collie mix comes into the shelter, "so beautiful, all gold and white and dirty," Rachel falls in love. She determines that against the odds she will tame and adopt the dog, and she writes about "Grrl" in her Advanced Language Arts class. Her teacher appreciates her writing talent, and encourages her to enter her essay in a competition. In the class, she meets another talented writer, Griffin, who tries to help her in her efforts to save Grrl. But the dog is too angry and frightened to be tamed, and when she attacks shelter workers she must be euthanized. Rachel is devastated and wreaks havoc at the shelter, but she finally comes to realize that Grrl was too wild and dangerous to save—and that writing about her is the best thing Rachel can do. No longer feeling like such a wild, angry "straydog" herself, Rachel moves out of her isolation and enters into a relationship with Griffin. Rachel is full of passion and talent, and many readers will find it easy to relate to her fierce love of animals and to her pain over losing Grrl. Her difficulty with relationships is convincing too; like Grrl, it's hard for Rachel to learn to trust, but readers will be able to see the rewards when she reaches out for help. This short, swift read is packed full of emotion. For those who need to know, there are a few swear words. Category: Hardcover Fiction. KLIATT Codes: JS—Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2002, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 112p., $16.00. Ages 13 to 18. Reviewer: PaulaRohrlick; KLIATT SOURCE: KLIATT, March 2002 (Vol. 36, No. 2)
Rachel's protection against the meanness of her high school peers who hate her for being different comes from her hard, devoted work at the local animal shelter and from her gift for writing. She is encouraged by her English teacher, Mrs. Cruzelle, herself a bully magnet whose own students mock her speech impediment, to enter a prestigious writing contest. Rachel tells her story from the point of view of Grrl, a savagely abused collie beyond salvation that Rachel is determined to rescue and adopt out of the shelter. Griffin, the new boy at school, is another outcast and as gifted a writer as Rachel. He joins in her Grrl redemption project, staying with her to the other side of the inevitable tragedy that pushes Rachel into an emotional tailspin, as seemingly disastrous as Grrl's unavoidable fate. The world of isolated, bright, loner high school students who are picked on by kids in the accepted cliques and misunderstood by their parents is a staple of young adult literature. Koja's familiar elements from her adult horror novels, which teem with dark, suffocating atmospheres, self-mutilation, and razor-sharp cruelties, are tempered when the teen reader enters Rachel's world. This time Koja has softened her usual rawness with a strong hit of hope and kindness at the end. Recommended for readers who are drawn to outsider themes, this title also would serve well in units on bullying. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2002, Farrar Straus Giroux, 112p, Andersen
Children's Literature
About the only place Rachel feels she fits in is at the animal shelter. A strained relationship with her mother, a nonexistent relationship with her father, and a lack of friendships with her peers all combine to make Rachel a very lonely person. She gets along well with Mrs. Cruzelle, her advanced Language Arts teacher, and Jack, a volunteer at the shelter, but even those relationships make Rachel feel cautious. Then a few big changes take place. The feral collie she names Grrl is brought to the shelter, Mrs. Cruzelle encourages her to enter a writing contest, and Rachel meets Griffin, a new boy at school. Rachel feels an instant connection with the stray dog, a wild dog, but the shelter has limited space and a feral dog isn't a good candidate for adoption. The threat of Grrl's death is ever-present. As she tries to teach Grrl to trust her, Rachel too must learn how to trust. Kathe Koja's first novel for teens is a compelling, multilayered story. Told in the first-person by Rachel, intermixed with the "dog's-eye" story she's written about Grrl, this novel addresses the complex issues of trust, love, growth, and acceptance. 2002, Frances Foster/Farrar Straus and Giroux,
— Heidi Hauser Green
School Library Journal
Gr 8-10-Grrl is a feral collie, as beautiful as Lassie, but so savage that no one can approach her cage. Rachel, who loves all animals but especially dogs, volunteers at the animal shelter and immediately identifies with the stray. The teen loathes her high school filled with nasty-minded students, and doesn't get along with her well-intentioned but overanxious mother or corporate-climbing "Brad the Dad." After Rachel's language-arts teacher encourages her to expand her essay, "A Dog's Life," for a writing contest, she reluctantly becomes intrigued with the idea. Mrs. Cruzelle also asks Rachel to be writing partners with Griffin, a new boy who also writes well, and an unexpected friendship develops. They even make plans to adopt Grrl. When Rachel finds out that the dog was euthanized, she becomes wild and trashes the shelter's office. In her grief, she also alienates her friend. Rachel's first-person narrative steers around sharp turns and raw edges much like her essay, "straydog." Its unconventional punctuation and long sentences convey the writer's sorrow and rage as she struggles with estrangement and loneliness. Eventually, she realizes that she was the one who felt cornered and trapped, and begins to rebuild her relationships with Griffin and her mother. The friendship with Griffin has romantic tension, but transcends high-school stereotypes. The novella format will appeal to older readers who seek compelling stories but are overwhelmed by thick books.-Farida S. Dowler, formerly at Bellevue Regional Library, WA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A horror novelist for adults (Extremities, 1998, etc.) tries a different tack with this whiny but intense girl-meets-dog (and boy) story. Volunteering at an animal shelter, prickly loner Rachel finds a kindred spirit in the newly arrived, savagely feral dog she dubs "Grrl." A compulsive writer, Rachel is inspired to work on a nightmarish, dog's-eye view of street life that her creative-writing teacher urges her to finish and submit to a competition; meanwhile, Rachel is making another connection, this time with Griffin, a withdrawn new classmate. After some wary circling, Griffin offers his backyard as a pen for Grrl-but Rachel returns to the shelter to discover that Grrl's already been euthanized. Though she tends toward trite self-analysis ("What do you do when you're too smart for the freaks, but too much of a freak for the smart kids?") and is given to tirades about her parents' character flaws, people who don't spay their pets, and like topics, Rachel's emotional intensity, conveyed both in her fierce narrative and in long passages from her story, is compelling enough to draw readers along. Less compelling is the ending, in which Griffin snaps her out of a bout of wild, destructive grief, and the two adopt another, friendlier, stray dog. Still, fans of tales about teen writers, or stories with animal themes, will pant after this. (Fiction. 12-15)

Product Details

Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
4.19(w) x 6.66(h) x 0.39(d)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Meet the Author

Kathe Koja is the author of several novels for adults. She lives in the Detroit area with her husband and teenage son.

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Straydog 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I think that it was a very good book. I recommend that you read it. It could be hard to read for some people because of the run-on sentences.
animalsandmagic More than 1 year ago
I liked Straydog but some things at the end of the book prevent me from giving it a higher rating. This is a very good story about what happens at many animal shelters but might be a little too realistic for some younger readers, because the dog in the book is also a feral/wild dog. For older readers it is a good and realistic fiction story
ajustice27 More than 1 year ago
This book is about a girl named Rachel that got attached to a stray dog. She is a 14 year old girl that actually works at the animal shelter as a part time job. The moment Rachel sees the stray colle, she falls in love with it because she thinks the dog is just beautiful. But then the dog starts barking and growling at everyone for no reason. It is not very friendly at all. Rachel has to try very hard to get the dog to cooperate with her and like her. Even though she tries hard, it doesn't have much effect on the dog. Eventually, the owner of the shelter wants to put the dog to sleep because it has been there for too long and it is not getting adopted. But Rachel is outraged and convinces her manager to take mercy on the dog and let it stay longer. But will the dog learn to respect people before its time at the shelter is up?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This has to be one of the most unique and sad stories i've ever heard. I loved the writing style--an odd phrasing that gave the story a more poetic feel. But the story itself is fantastic, and definitely something I can relate to. It makes you think afterwards--but my favorite aspect of this book was the parallell between Rachel and the straydog, especially how Rachel's work on her essay for a particular day mirrors how her own day went. VERY clever.
Guest More than 1 year ago
i didnt really like Straydog by Kathe Koja it was weird, the writing was beautiful but the book ended poorly and nothing happy ever happened in the book either.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Straydog is a powerful story, beautifully written and original. It traps you in the center of another world which is so wonderfully told that you seem to follow Rachel's desires. Awesome in every way... highly recomended!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Did you ever get attach to a straydog before that came into a shelter? Well thats what Rachel did. Rachel is a 14 year old girl that works at the animal shelter for part time. When a stray collie comes in the shelter she fall in love with this dog. But this straydog growls and barks at anybody that comes near it. Now Rachel is trying to make the dog trust her. But it's not that easy to make a straydog from the streets trust people again. So its not quite working out for Rachel. After a couple of months this dog is not showing improvement. Rachel's manager want to the dog to sleep because the dog has been here for a long time and hasn't been getting adopted. Then Rachel convinces her manager to let the dog stay. Do you think the straydog will soon trust Rachel before it's life is over?