From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 4–7—Dessa Dean, 11, was a powerless witness as her diabetic mother froze to death when they were caught in an early-winter storm. Since then, she and her father have gone through the motions of normalcy, with him going out daily to check the traps while she stays behind to do the schoolwork he prepares and to fix their meager dinner. But things are not normal: Dessa Dean frequently relives the horror of her mother's death, and she is unable to make herself venture beyond the steps of their isolated Colorado cabin. The week before Christmas, though, an injured dog comes sniffing around. Dessa Dean's initial attempts to befriend it fail: the jittery animal has apparently been abused and keeps her distance. Repeated efforts pay off, but even when the dog allows Dessa Dean to approach her, she remains on edge around the girl's father. As another storm nears, he is having no success with his hunting forays and has little patience for a dog that will only stay inside when the door is open to the frigid air. Dessa Dean is caught between her growing feelings for the animal and her father's concern over their basic survival. This story of an agoraphobic girl and a claustrophobic dog and how they slowly move one another toward hope could have been maudlin, but Nuzum's pacing and spare, poetic narrative create something quite wonderful. The novel will draw comparisons to Kate DiCamillo's Because of Winn-Dixie
(Candlewick, 2000), but it is certainly not a Winn-Dixie
wannabe. This is a beautiful story in which friendship and the power of being needed trump despair.—Kim Dare, Fairfax County Public Schools, VA
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Eleven-year-old Dessa Dean lives with her father, a hunter and trapper, in a remote wilderness area. So traumatized by witnessing her mother’s death that she cannot bear to leave the cabin even to use the outhouse, she is plagued by nightmares and tormented by waking “daymares.” She lives a lonely life until a lame, half-starved dog comes to the door. In reaching out to befriend the skittish dog, she begins to think beyond her limitations and takes the first step toward healing. In a convincing first-person narrative, Dessa tells of her frustration with her troubles, her hopes when the dog appears, her determination to bring him into her life, and her slow progress toward that end. Though the plot’s outcome is predictable, readers who enjoy animal stories will no doubt find plenty to like here. A quiet novel from the author of A Small White Scar (2006). Grades 4-7. --Carolyn Phelan