When my signed hardcover copy of A Dog’s Way Home by Bobbie Pyron first arrived, I felt as if it were Christmas. In being about eleven-year-old Abby and her champion sheltie Tam after they’re separated by a car accident, it’s like a modern-day Lassie Come Home. However, A Dog’s Way Home also distinguishes itself from other classic lost dog stories by being told through alternating viewpoints. In this riveting tale of over 300 pages, Pyron treats readers to an intense love story with complex relationships and probing themes.
What is so special about lost dog stories? At their heart is the bond of love between the main character and their furry four-legged companion. Another way of putting that is how Abby’s dad tells her everyone has a North Star which centers them, gives them meaning, and that they must follow. For Abby, her dog Tam is her North Star. By the same token, Abby is Tam’s girl. She is who he dreams of, listens to, and loves most in the world. Imagine now, if the two are separated. No amount of miles or hardship is going to deter either from finding one another. This fact alone makes for a story that will make you chew your nails, cry, scream, as well as clap your hands, beam, and sing.
How is A Dog’s Way Home different from other dog stories? In those tales which I have read, the point of view remains solely from that of the dog. Pryon instead takes readers inside the emotions of both Abby and her Tam, which heightens the story’s emotional punch. When her parents fail to live up to their promise to return to the crash location, Abby skips school and hops on a bus to find her dog. When her parents find her, Abby doesn’t give up but instead runs up a bill making phone calls to parks and shelters. During all this time, Tam is equally driven to find Abby. He encounters bears, bobcats, porcupines, frostbite, traps, and gunshots. None of this discourage him. On the flip side, when a coyote befriends him, an elderly lady nurses him back to health, and a shelter captures him with intention of adopting him out, Tam also doesn’t let those comforts hinder him from his goal of returning to his girl.
Pryon also reveals to readers the actions of both Abby and Tam. As such, we learn how far and how close the two sometimes are from one another, which intensifies the suspense. For instance, when Tam wriggles loose of both his crate and collar to escape from drowning, he then travels the miles back to the scene of the accident where he waits for Abby’s return. Unfortunately, her parents are dealing with a broken-down vehicle and injuries, and so the family fails to immediately return to look for him. When they finally do take the trip back, Tam has been driven from the spot by hunger. Later, when Tam’s microchip is found and a shelter worker tries to call the family, every message goes straight to an answering machine because the family has moved due to a new job. By the time anyone presses the playback, Tam has once again taken to the road to find Abby. So close and yet so far!
Through my critic’s eye, Pyron seems at times to be trying too hard with her sentimental style to manipulate my emotions: “There is no more pitiful thing in the whole world….” At times, I also felt irritated that Tam is yelled at or shot at by practically every stranger he met for apparently looking like a fox. (Other readers also wondered about this detail, but shelties can apparently resemble foxes: More Sheltie Fans.) After the family moves to Tennessee so that Abby’s father can become a country star, I even felt taken aback by some of Abby’s reactions: How small was her hometown that she didn’t know anything about lockers or cell phones? On the flip side, how could a small-town girl suddenly find herself an academic star in a trendier and bigger school but not know about Newbury awards and classics? Finally, when Abby criticisms her new classmates’ obsessions with hair styles, cell phones, and dates, I started to wonder whether she was herself a snob.
Just like author Bobbie Pyron, I grew up reading dog stories. Until A Dog’s Way Home, few dog stories had made me wonder about the complexities involved with a missing dog. (Other readers had a similar reaction: Why I Write Part 2) Yes, Abby’s parents do put their jobs ahead of a search for Tam, but isn’t this how life normally has to be? No, the vet who treats Tam doesn’t bother to check for a microchip, but what would you do if an abused dog showed up on your doorstep? A Dog’s Way Home hit my heart hard, because of Pyron risked portraying the truth of life’s messiness.
Eager to read A Dog’s Way Home? You can win your own copy by commenting on this review or on my interview tomorrow with Bobbie. All entrants will have their names entered into a draw. When you post, please include your email so I can contact you if you’re a winner.
My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read it.
How would you rate this book?