Walking the Dog by Linda Benson
Publisher: Musa Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Short Story (120 pages)
Age Recommendation: 10+
Rating: 4 Stars
Jared feels like he's the only one who looks past Sophie's scars to see her for who she is. But can he be a true friend when she desperately needs one?
Jared is smitten when his teacher seats the new girl, Sophie, right next to him. Even with the scar running up the side of her face, Jared thinks she’s the most beautiful girl in the entire fifth grade. But why did she transfer here so late in the year? Rumors say something bad happened to her.
Jared and Sophie become friends while walking the guidance counselor’s new puppy, but when his parents object to this arrangement, Jared fabricates a series of elaborate lies to meet Sophie on the sly. But little brothers can be pests. First Petey lets the orange cat loose at the animal shelter where Jared and Sophie have been secretly walking the dogs. Then Petey turns up missing.
And Sophie’s past finally catches up with her.
Sometimes the past cannot stay buried.
It can difficult to know how to broach the topic of child abuse with elementary school aged students. Too much information can be unnecessarily frightening for those who don’t have personal experience with it as well as potentially triggering for those have been the victims of it. As Jared slowly learns what happened to Sophie I held my breath. Would Ms. Benson include so many details of the abuse Sophie endures that I’d feel obligated to raise the age recommendation?
I shouldn’t have worried. We learn enough about Sophie’s past experiences to explain her current fears but none of the stories she shares are inappropriate for this age range. What surprised me the most was how quickly Sophie adapts to life in a new town with the help of a compassionate boy named Jared. The abuse will always be part of her past but Sophie’s identity as a daughter, friend, animal-lover and student is in no way limited to the bad things that have happened to her.
My only concern with this book involves how much responsibility for looking after his little brother Jared experiences. Their parents are described as unusually involved in the boys’ lives yet Jared is expected to shoulder an unfair amount of the work that comes with keeping a rambunctious 8-year-old safe. It would have made more sense for Mr. and Mrs. Westin to either be equally protective of both of their sons or expect Pete to be a little less impulsive. As it stands Jared is given a nearly adult level of responsibility for the care of his sibling and yet has the personal freedom of someone much younger.
Walking the Dog is one of those rare stories that appeals as much to adult readers as it will to its intended audience. I’d especially recommend reading it aloud if you live with someone who is about Jared and Sophie’s age. It’s the sort of tale that becomes even more exciting when two or more people are hearing it for the first time together.