I will be the first to admit that I'm a sucker for any story featuring talking animals. I will usually pick up any new release that features a talking pet, so when I encountered What the Dog Said, I was expecting something pretty par for the course. With the adorable mutt on the cover and the fresh faced smiling girl on the back, I was looking forward to some good old animal/human relationship humor. What I received was totally unexpected and even better. What the Dog Said turned out to be an incredibly perceptive look at grief and one young girl's struggles to cope with the sudden death of her father. Sure, there were some funny moments. Rex is a great character who I enjoyed from his first appearance when he tries to talk Grace into adopting him. Yes, the dog does talk through most of the book, but is it Rex, or her own magical thinking?
At just 238 pages, there is quite a bit packed into this well plotted, fast paced story. The reader learns quite a bit about canine assistance programs, but the instructive nature never overpowers the narrative. The reader gets true insight into the program and the wonderful work these dogs and trainers do in order to provide companion animals to people with disabilities. Grace is a complex character, and her relationship with her sister Reagan is particularly well done. Their dialogue rings with authenticity, and the growth of their relationship was perhaps one of my favorite parts of the story. Grace goes on quite a journey with Rex, as she confronts one of the young men involved in her father's shooting, learns more about her father, and her own power of forgiveness. This is just a rich, moving story that is a recommend for any young reader grades 5 and up. I enjoyed it thoroughly, staying up late just to finish it so I could pass it along. This novel addresses grief in a way that is very accessible to teens and tweens, and was an unexpected gift.