Author: Sam Angus
Publication: Feiwel & Friends (April 16, 2013)
Description: With his older brother gone to fight in the Great War, and his father prone to sudden rages, 14-year-old Stanley devotes himself to taking care of the family’s greyhound and puppies. Until the morning Stanley wakes to find the puppies gone.
Determined to find his brother, Stanley runs away to join an increasingly desperate army. Assigned to the experimental War Dog School, Stanley is given a problematic Great Dane named Bones to train. Against all odds, the pair excels, and Stanley is sent to France.
But the war in France is larger and more brutal than Stanley ever imagined. How can one young boy survive and find his brother with only a dog to help?
My Thoughts: Sam Angus centers her story around a little known aspect of World War I. I certainly didn't know that 100,000 dogs assisted the armies on the battlefield in a number of ways. This is the story of a young boy named Stanley Ryder who runs away to enlist and finds himself working with those dogs.
Stanley had been living with his father who had lost himself in grief when his wife suddenly died and when his older son went off to war. Stanley's Da had turned bitter and angry and took out that anger on his young son. When Da's prize greyhound gets out and comes back bred by some local mutt, Stanley is left to care for the animal because his father refuses to take care of her or feed her. Stanley's relationship with Rocket is the only love he is getting in his life. When she has four puppies, his father threatens to drown them all. Stanley is closest to the only male who he names Soldier. He had to help the pup survive as it wasn't born breathing. When the pups are six weeks old, Da gives them away to the tinkers whose dog bred the mother but they don't want Soldier.
When Da takes Soldier and Stanley thinks he has drowned him, Stanley decides that there is nothing left for him and runs away to join the army to find his brother Tom. Those must have been desperate times for Britain because, even though he is just fourteen, he is allowed to enlist. He is assigned to serve with a unit that is handling messenger dogs and is given charge of a dog named Bones.
Again, because the situation is desperate for England, Stanley finds himself and his dog in France and in deadly danger. He continues his search for his brother but they keep missing each other. The war scenes in this book were graphic and chilling. When Bones dies heroically while trying to accomplish a mission, Stanley is devastated. However, despite his determination to go home, he is given another dog name Pistol who needs him as much as Stanley needs a dog to be responsible for.
The two go through battles. Pistol is severely injured on the mission but manages to finish it with Stanley's help. Stanley is blinded by gas and has his lungs damaged too.He is separated from his dog and fears that the dog won't survive.
Beyond the battles, this is a story of survival and love. It does have a hopeful ending. I think middle graders will take this story to heart. I recommend it.
Stanley ate ravenously, surprised by his hunger, unable to remember when he'd last eaten. He felt better for being with Hamish, better for the eggs and friend potatoes and the warm crusty bread and the milk that wasn't powdered, but his had kept slipping to his side, and in the place of the large square skull of Bones, there was this leggy animal, light as a whisper or a shadow, and always at his side.I received this ARC from Macmillan Children's Publishing Group. You can buy your copy here.