Gr 7 Up—Fifteen-year-old Candy's family is barely getting by, with her mother near death and a father who would rather drink and gamble than pay bills. She trusts no one and is close to dropping out of school when she meets Carlos, her bookish Latino 18-year-old neighbor, who lends a sympathetic ear. As their friendship deepens, they discover that Candy's father is involved in an illegal dogfighting scheme to make money. With Carlos's help, Candy takes a brave stand to save the dogs and herself. This novella is a dog story like no other, told with brutal honesty by both Candy and Bear, the "big and bad" canine protagonist. Bear's descriptions of life with a family, on the street, and in the shelter are expertly written with the heightened senses of a dog. The dog fight scenes are just as vivid and not for the faint of heart. The author's commitment to accuracy is a shocking look into a bloody, inhumane, underground world. The parallel cruelty in Candy's life is equally crushing, but a few kind minor characters keep readers hopeful that she will persevere. Poet Scotti gives voice to the most helpless creatures in a heart-wrenching story of pain and redemption. Candy's appearance isn't described. VERDICT Readers will feel every emotion and be compelled to read more of Scotti's work, as only a seasoned poet could take them on such a powerful journey in so few words.—Jane Miller, Nashville P.L.
The lives of a downtrodden teenage girl and a shepherd dog intersect in Scotti’s debut YA novella.
Candace “Candy” Scott lives in Southern California with her father. She should be a sophomore in high school, but she hasn’t had the will to attend class since her mother died. Her father does odd jobs to pay the bills, including collecting stray dogs for Clement, a liquor store owner and dogfighting enthusiast. One day, her dad brings home a “big shaggy shepherd with biscuit-colored fur” and keeps him in their building’s basement. Candy also starts noticing Carlos, an older teen who lives in the building with his uncle, Rafael Gomez, and his family. Carlos helps Candy briefly care for the dog until Clement comes to pick him up. Then they witness Clement kicking the animal and saying, “you gotta be tougher than that, little man.” The dog’s name is Bear, and he’s had a horrible life ever since he failed to keep his boy companion, Jared, from running into a street, which led to tragedy. Bear has since suffered beatings, the loneliness of a kill shelter, and life on the streets. As Candy and Carlos bond, her father’s alcoholism threatens the security of her home. Bear, meanwhile, makes a fragile connection to JuJuBee, a Chihuahua. Scotti’s portraits of resilience, though harrowing, reveal much overlap in the emotional lives of humans and animals. When readers meet Bear in the first of his many first-person chapters, he says, “I am not a bad dog, but I did a bad thing,” echoing Candy’s attitude toward dropping out of school. She and Carlos are a charming couple; for instance, she claims not to like her nickname, saying, “I’m not that sweet,” and he replies by calling her “Lemon.” Clement comes off as menacing from his very first scene, when he tries to brush Candy’s hair off of her face without her permission. Various scenes of brutality involving Bear in a dogfighting ring are effective without being excessively graphic. Scotti maintains a sense of realism by avoiding easy or saccharine solutions but still offers hope.
An affecting tale that shows how people and animals can change each other’s lives.