Sunday, July 4, 2010
Monday Review: Guinea Dog
by Patrick Jennings
EgmontUSA (April 2010)
No point beating around the bush on this one. Patrick Jennings latest book, GUINEA DOG, is simply the most delightful, laugh-out-loud funny read I've come across this year.
The premise alone is enough to entertain: Boy (Rufus) wants dog. Dad does not want dog. Mom compromises with guinea pig (Fido) who behaves exactly like a dog. Fido whines for attention, growls, plays fetch and keeps up with the big dogs like nobody's business.
The last thing Rufus wants, however, is a rodent. He wants a real dog, one like his friends have. And there's the real issue right there—the tender little nugget tucked inside this hilarious romp—accepting who you are, even (or especially) if it's not quite up to normal standards. Jennings takes the perfect approach to dealing with a topic that can easily be ground into preachy pablum. He makes a joke of it. An expertly crafted one.
Three things that make this story work like a dog:
1. The seamless integration of fantasy into real world. Without a single explanation for Fido's existence (in fact, the pet store from which she came has mysteriously vanished), Jennings manages to make us believe the reality of a guinea dog...to the point that I've been thinking of getting one. This deft manipulation of reality is no small feat. In fact, it's the sign of a master magician/storyteller.
2. Rufus and his friends are hands down some of the most well-crafted, fully rounded characters to strut the page. With very small strokes, Jennings paints such realistic characterizations, I know that I know these kids. They're recognizable without being stereotypes. The dialog and mannerisms are spot on. He captures the essence of kids with the same care and respect he uses to depict natural life (animals are a mainstay of Jennings' work). In Jennings' world, kids and animals live in harmony. He doesn't cheat either out of their dignity, yet he always finds unique ways to draw out the humor.
3. The sound and rhythm of Jennings' words create a lyrical soundtrack that make this story sing. Jennings uses several poetic techniques to achieve this effect: the well-place repetition of words and phrases that take us directly into the mind and emotion of Rufus (who's narrating the story); listing (which also makes use of building repetitions and rhythm); short, declarative sentences that drive the beat; and unobtrusive alliteration.
Jennings hit a home run with this book. Before he came to our Imagination Celebration two weeks ago, I knew that GUINEA DOG would do well at the book signing. It did. In fact, it sold out.
I was just glad I already had my copy.
Book Source: I bought GUINEA DOG at Orca Books