From School Library Journal
Gr 4-7–Eleven-year-old Tony has had a tough life and now his mother, an immigrant, is in prison for training fighting pit bulls. Fortunately, his great uncle agrees to take him in. Tío is a forest ranger who, along with his dog Gabe, rescues people lost in the wilderness. Suddenly, Tony is living far from Los Angeles in the Sierra Nevada. Written in free verse, this story is told from the perspectives of Tony and Gabe. The chocolate lab senses the boy's internal struggles as he deals both with his sadness about his mother and his wonder at this beautiful new place. Wise and kind, Tío begins to train Tony to work with the rescue volunteers and gives his nephew the best gift of all when he welcomes him into his home permanently, helping him gain the confidence he needs to begin planning a positive future. Gabe's insights into Tony's struggles and his vividly captured doggy enthusiasm and devotion keep the story upbeat. The bond that develops between the canine and boy makes this book an inspiring read that will be especially believable to dog lovers. Black-and-white drawings appear throughout the story, and these empathetic depictions of the characters, animals, and setting capture the spirit of the text. A thoughtful and sensitive story that touches on immigration, family, and other serious issues.–Carol Schene, formerly at Taunton Public Schools, MAα(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Tony moves to Sierra Nevada with his forest ranger great uncle, following his mother’s arrest for dog fighting. Tony quickly connects with Gabe, Tío Leonilo’s search-and-rescue dog. With the help of Gabe, and through writing a blog and poetry, Tony settles into his new life of search and rescue; Cowboy Church, with its dogs and horses; loud Gracie from school; and trips to visit his mother in prison. He works hard to overcome his fear of math, which had always meant calculating dog bets, so that he can study veterinary science in college. Tony’s transformation is told in free verse that alternates between Tony’s and Gabe’s voices. Clear, strong language captures Tony’s pain, and while the ending is tidy, his relationship with his mom remains complicated and honest. The details about search and rescue, the Pacific Coast trail, and dogs and bears keep the book’s action high and will appeal to wilderness fans. Black-and-white illustrations complete the package. Grades 3-6. --Suzanne Harold