4.0 10
by Koja

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"Smart, angry, and alone, Rachel doesn't fit in . . .She feels best when she's writing and when she's volunteering at the animal shelter, especially after a feral collie appears, whom she names Grrl. . . strong characters, rich detail, and well-articukated emotions." —Booklist

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"Smart, angry, and alone, Rachel doesn't fit in . . .She feels best when she's writing and when she's volunteering at the animal shelter, especially after a feral collie appears, whom she names Grrl. . . strong characters, rich detail, and well-articukated emotions." —Booklist

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Smart, angry, and alone, Rachel doesn't fit in . . .She feels best when she's writing and when she's volunteering at the animal shelter, especially after a feral collie appears, whom she names Grrl. . . strong characters, rich detail, and well-articukated emotions." —Booklist

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.
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
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
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)
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)

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Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
5.84(w) x 8.52(h) x 0.60(d)
970L (what's this?)
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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