If you are a dog lover, you must read this book. Almost Perfect captures not only the special bond and communication that can take place between canine and human but also the excitement and drama in the world of confirmation Dog Shows.
Bess Rutledge has bred some of the country's finest Standard Poodles for decades, but she has sold all but one of her remaining dogs and is preparing for a dreary, lonely retirement. Then she meets Bennie Neusner, her mildly-autistic, dog-loving (REAL dogs – not Poodles) teenage neighbor. He convinces her to keep one puppy from the last litter of Umpawuag Poodles. The book pairs grumpy, old-because-she wants-to-be, Bess and her heart dog and aging, top show dog McCreery with immature, irrepressible Bennie and McCreery's mischievous, look-alike son, Breaker. For very different reasons, the two begin to share a dream of participating in the prestigious Westminster Dog Show. One one level, this book is about their roundabout journey to Westminster. On a much deeper level, it is about coming-of-age and redemption.
I liked that the book explains just enough about dog show mechanics so a novice can understand the process without slowing down the plot for the more experienced dog fancier.
I especially enjoyed Ms. Manning's obvious understanding and comprehension of teen-aged angst. Bennie's voice deftly reflects both his anxiety and growing maturity throughout the book.
I admit, as a former exhibitor, the ending made me a little misty-eyed. Almost Perfect is a lovely way to spend an afternoon.