Ingrid Lee’s novel, Dog Lost, is a fast-moving and moving account of the life of a pit bull terrier named Cash. Cash and the human and animal characters that surround her move quickly from episode to episode, drama to drama. Yet, Ingrid Lee’s writing is sufficient that, despite the fast pace of the novel, the reader is able to develop feelings for the characters and, indeed, to feel moved as the characters lurch from one disappointing setback to another.
Although about two hundred pages in length, I found the novel an ideal read aloud as I read the story to my family. The short chapters (there are 30 in all) and high drama are ideally suited to a read aloud approach, and many middle years teachers will find this book ideally suited to classroom use.
Eleven-year-old Mackenzie O’Rourke leads a tough life. His mother has passed away. His older brother has abandoned him. His father is a mean-spirited drunk. In this context, it is easy to understand why Mackenzie so quickly falls in love with his new puppy, Cash. Young Mackenzie, however, is dealt another harsh blow when his enraged father tosses the dog into an abandoned lot after the father and dog clash when Cash leaps to Mackenzie’s protection one night.
Cash then leads a miserable, cold and wet existence, scrounging for food scraps from garbage cans. All the while, the community is whipped into frenzy as the local council seeks to enact a bylaw to ban pit bulls after a series of attacks on humans.
With a backdrop setting that encompasses the turmoil of dysfunctional families, the sinister underworld of dog fighting, and the despair of terminal illness, Lee’s motley collection of human characters reminded me somewhat of S. E. Hinton’s collection of misfits in The Outsiders. Lee skillfully manages to weave together a variety of subplots and, eventually, to merge the lives of the various characters, culminating in a search for the lost dog, Cash.
The book, we are told, is based on a true story. It is a story well told. It gives the reader many reasons to pause, to wonder at story events, and to wonder at the way that different people think and act in relation to animals.
Lee’s characters are carefully constructed. Each character is believable. The gritty, three-dimensional character construction adds many extra layers to the book.
I highly recommend this book to pre-teen and early teen dog lovers and, indeed, to lovers of a good story, regardless of their age.
Gregory Bryan is a dog lover who teaches in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, MB.
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