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How to Steal a Dog: A Novel Paperback – April 28, 2009
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From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 3-7– Georgina and her family have been living in their car since her father left and they were evicted from their apartment. Mama is working two jobs to earn rent money and trying hard to hold things together. Desperate to help out, Georgina decides to steal a dog for the reward money, laying out the details of her plan in a diary. However, the dog's owner can't afford to offer a reward, and Georgina ends up feeling sorry for the lonely woman. The girl also makes friends with another adult named Mookie, a kindhearted wanderer who is camped out at the abandoned house where she is keeping the dog. He shares his wisdom and offers help, whether she wants it or not. Georgina's narrative is honest and deeply touching, as she recounts how she and her brother try to survive their circumstances. Washing off in a gas station restroom and turning in grease-stained homework become fairly normal occurrences. Readers will identify with the agony and the embarrassment caused by being different, as well as Georgina's struggles with her conscience. The book's endearing humor smoothes out the more poignant moments, and the unfolding events will keep youngsters totally engaged. The gem in the story is Mookie, who manages to sparkle even when sadness threatens to devour the moment. Though set inside a heavy topic, this novel's gentle storytelling carries a theme of love and emphasizes what is really right in the world.–Robyn Gioia, Bolles School, Ponte Vedra, FL
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Library Binding edition.
One day Georgina has a home, a best friend, and plenty to eat. The next, she's living in a car with her mother and brother. Carrying on as usual isn't possible: washing up in a restaurant bathroom, doing homework by flashlight, losing her friend. Mom works two jobs, but it's not enough, so impatient Georgina decides to steal a dog, hoping to collect a reward. She picks her furry victim and makes careful plans--but she doesn't count on her conscience. In stripped-down, unsentimental prose, Georgina tells her own story, her words making clear her vulnerability and heartbreak as well as her determination and pride. It's puzzling why Mom doesn't seek outside help for her desperate family, and the appearance of wise Mookie, a sort of transient deus ex machina, verges on excess. Yet in the end, this is truly Georgina's story, and to O'Connor's great credit, it's Georgina herself who figures out what's right and does it. The myriad effects of homelessness and the realistic picture of a moral quandary will surely generate discussion. Stephanie Zvirin
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Library Binding edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
Georgina's father walked out on the family, leaving them without enough money to continue to rent an apartment. His departure is never explained, but the ache left in Georgina's heart is succinctly summarized in one heartbreaking sentence: "I wanted my daddy to come on home and change everything back to the way it was before." The embarrassment she feels about living in a car is also apparent in another compact sentence: "If there was ever a time when I wished the earth would open up and swallow me whole, it was when I turned around and saw Luanne looking at me and that car and all."
While the book revolves around a homeless family, it never becomes the equivalent of an after-school special designed to raise reader awareness about the plight of the homeless. It also never stoops to using their homelessness as a backdrop for the tale. Chapter after chapter, we feel the impact of homeless life: The family lives out of a car; They need to change locations regularly to avoid being arrested; They eat whatever free meals the mom can scrounge from the restaurant where she works; Their clothes and hair become scuffier in appearance. In the middle of this misery, Georgina sees a reward poster for a lost dog, which inspires her idea to steal a dog: After all, a $500 reward would provide the family with a home. The book revolves around her putting this plan in action.
This is a children's book, which means we know that Georgina will probably not end up in prison. What we don't know is whether Georgina will figure out that stealing is not a good idea. Yet the book never becomes a tract against theft. Georgina struggles with her conscience when she first meets the owner of the dog she stole, later when she decides to tie the dog up at an abandoned house until she can return it for a reward, and many more times throughout the book. In the end, her life does not suddenly become perfect, but this is all the more satisfying for this is how the book remains real.
Another numbing reality is the woman whose husband runs off, leaving her with the children and all the responsibility. An already poor circumstance soon renders a woman on the streets, or in this case, living in their car. Georgina, the character through whose viewpoint we access the story, is so embarrassed that she won't tell her best friend. When she does, the friend deserts her, treating her, more or less, like an untouchable.
Georgina and her brother pretty much fend for themselves because the mother works two jobs. To deflect suspicion about a parked car in one place too long, the mother parks in a new spot each morning before she goes off to work and the children to school.
To help raise enough money for a real home--an apartment, house, whatever, it doesn't matter--Georgina makes a plan to dog-nap a hapless canine and get $500 in reward money. Her thinking is to find a dog whose owner simply cannot do without that companion and is willing to pay reward (think: ransom, extortion, rescue) money. She and her brother walk around until they find what appears to them to be a really nice house, the only one, in a run-down neighborhood. Yes, I thought that, too--What's wrong with this picture? One large house in a declining neighborhood. What Georgina sees is that the name on the mailbox and the name of the street are the same: Eureka! This must be a rich family!
So go all the decisions made by one desperate little girl in a desperate situation. And that's the author's point. There's nothing humorous about this book. It is a desperate story of desperation. With each decision and new act, Georgina buries herself into a deeper morass of immoral, unethical, unkind behaviors. The reader is left, drifting in a sense of dread, wondering how the story will end, how the girl will abandon this horrible plot of getting reward money off the woes of another terribly sad human being. The end cannot be good, the reader thinks.
It is and it is not. The conclusion left me drained, powerless to help the girl, the dog, or the owner. I know, I know, it's only fiction, but good writers can give us the truest truths in fiction, stories wiped clean of extraneous content, baring only the sordid reality--in this book--of homelessness and, almost as bad, one awful decision after another. What I advise is that each child who reads this book sit down and discuss it with an adult who has also read it.
This novel is not a classic in the classic sense, but "How to Steal a Dog" is worthy of reading because it yields itself to great discussion. It is recommended for readers ages 9-12. Middle school is definitely an appropriate place. In fact, I would love to be in a classroom whose focus is this book and listen to discussion or study products (power point, posters, glogs, a blog discussion--anything but a traditional book report) to assess the moral climate of that discussion and how the teacher connects.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Though I can not seem to figure out what the theme is. Any suggestions???
I was thinking moral issues but not sure.