"Bunting's straightforward story about an Oregon boy who learns to accept the loss of loved ones, including a dog, is heartwarming despite some heavy touches," said PW. Ages 8-12. (Apr.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Eleven-year-old William believes he has adopted the perfect dog, until Riley chases down and injures a neighbor's aging racehorse. The authorities take Riley away because in Oregon, the punishment for that canine crime is death. With his best friend, Grace, William mounts a campaign to save Riley's life, but public support for his cause is divided. The opposition leader, Ellis Porter, is a dog-hating bully on a mission to see Riley euthanized. Still struggling with his grandfather's unexpected death, his parent's divorce, and his father's impending marriage, William refuses to accept Riley's fate and uses every resource at his disposal to obtain a reprieve for his beloved pet. Bunting's moving novel is populated with sympathetic, multi-faceted characters and set against a backdrop of loss, grief and healing. It's an inspiring story about fighting for your beliefs, never giving up, and learning to cope with change that will grab young readers from the very first page and hold them tight until the last. 2001, Joanna Cotler Books/ HarperCollins, $15.95. Ages 8 to 12. Reviewer:Ellen R. Braaf
Gr 4-6-With the recent death of his grandfather and his parents' decision to separate, 11-year-old William struggles with his grief and anger until an abandoned Lab comes into his life. Boy and dog bond immediately, but then William takes him to visit a neighbor. Without warning, Riley breaks away and begins to chase Peachie's old racehorse, causing injury to him. When the dog runs over to her farm again, she calls the animal-control officers and they take Riley away. Determined to save his pet from a possible death sentence, William begins a publicity campaign to vie for the townspeople's sympathies. Riley is saved when a man offers to take him and train him to keep an airport runway clear of birds. Although William loses the dog he loves, he realizes that he has done his best and begins to accept the changes that are taking place in his life. The interactions among various characters are well developed. This is a thought-provoking story but the resolution, though believable, is not totally satisfying since it gets everyone off the hook without any real change taking place concerning the law or people's attitudes. It is disturbing how quickly everyone except William gives up on Riley. Everything is great when he appears to be "the perfect dog," but one flaw and immediately he becomes a "throwaway" once again. Bunting has really captured the dilemma of our contemporary society, which wants simple solutions to complex situations, often demands perfection, and rejects anything less.-Carol Schene, Taunton Public Schools, MA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Boy gets dog. Boy loses dog. Boy keeps dog from being killed. William, an 11-year-old still reeling from the separation of his parents and from his grandfather's death, gets what he thinks is the perfect dog. And indeed Riley is everything a dog should be: loyal, loving, intelligent. Because of their relationship, William begins to feel happier and more complete. He tries to explain his feelings to his best friend, Grace, who perceptively says, "Maybe that's one of the reasons people get dogs, to kind of close up the empty places inside them." Then trouble hits. Riley rushes an old horse named the Sultan and hurts it, though exactly what happened is left deliberately and annoyingly unclear. "One minute Riley was snapping at the Sultan's heels and the Sultan was whinnying and kicking back. The next minute the Sultan was down." The horse's owner calls animal control and Riley is taken away to be destroyed. William's parents hire a lawyer and William begins to wage a publicity campaign to save his pet. But many of the town members, including a local bully, do not support Riley, and forcefully and articulately state the opposing view. By keeping what happened ambiguous and being so evenhanded, the author blunts reader identification with her protagonist and his cause, and the end, which should be moving, fails to touch the heart. At best, a lesson that there are at least two sides to every issue. (Fiction. 8-12)
“A thought–provoking story.”