From School Library Journal
Grade 5-8–In the mid-1960s, Danny River and his family live on the periphery of Toronto, in out-of-the-way Hog's Hollow. The neighbors find the family somewhat odd: the father, Old Man River, cleans septic tanks for a living, while Mrs. River imagines herself a belle of the old South, and their older son, Beau, dreams of becoming an astronaut. As the Vietnam War looms larger, Old Man River remembers his World War II experiences and begins to dig a shelter in an effort to protect his family from the threat of missiles. The construction has disastrous consequences when the boys are playing around the site and Beau falls in. Lawrence's talent for creating captivating and rounded characters is fully realized from this point in the story as the Rivers struggle to come to terms with Beau's death. When a stray dog appears shortly after the tragedy, Danny refuses to become attached to it out of a misplaced guilt over his brother's death, but, over time, understands that loving Rocket does not lessen his love for his brother. The pace picks up nicely in the second half of the book when Danny and Rocket attempt to get to Cape Canaveral to realize Beau's dream. Adventure abounds, and the interesting detail that Lawrence weaves in about the Gemini Space Program and astronaut Gus Grissom will appeal to reluctant readers as well as more seasoned ones. This robust novel offers an affirming and hopeful look at a difficult subject.–Kim Dare, Fairfax County Public Schools, VA
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Eight-year-old Danny spends the summer of 1964 avoiding the bully down the street, playing with his big brother, Beau, and begging his parents for a dog. In the meantime, Beau obsesses about becoming an astronaut, his mother dreams of becoming a rich author, and his father, a World War II vet who anticipates that the Vietnam War will "bring about the end of everything, digs a hole in the lawn to make a shelter for his family. Come spring, Beau falls to his death while playing around the hole, and the family shatters and then slowly rebuilds. When a stray dog adopts him, Danny is convinced that Beau has returned as a dog, and he sets off for Cape Canaveral to realize Beau's dream of seeing the Gemini missions. This sensitively told story is full of small, descriptive details that breathe life into the people and the setting, and the family's grief at Beau's death is immediate and profound. Danny's perspective is spot-on for his age, making him a realistic focal point. The later half of the novel, during which Danny meets Gus Grissom and flies in a T-38, is less plausible, but serves as wish fulfillment for readers who would also love to rocket through the sky. Krista HutleyCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved