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Proceed With Caution

Alix reviews Danger Dog by Lynn Hall, a book about a thirteen year old boy who should really not own pets.

Proceed With Caution

BOOK REPORT for Danger Dog by Lynn Hall

Cover Story: Three Doberman Moon
BFF Charm: Maybe
Swoonworthy Scale: 0
Talky Talk: Freshman Psych Rears Its Ugly Head
Bonus Factors: Dogs
Anti-Bonus Factors: Dog People, Patty Chase Award for Terrible Parenting
Relationship Status: I Need An Intervention

Cover Story: Three Doberman Moon

I look at this cover and all I see is this:

Strangely enough, though, I don’t find this cover overly embarrassing. I think it’s because it’s so clearly of a certain vintage that it gets a pass.

The Deal:

So, first, a little backstory. A few weeks ago, I was e-mailing Molly Backes, all-around BAMF and author of Princesses of Iowa, the book I wish I was reading instead of this one, because I am super jazzed that it’s what all of y’all will be reading in a few months time for book club. And while we were bantering, I mentioned that I was reading a really great book for my review that week, and she replied thusly:

When do you get to talk about the WORST YA books? Because I have a contender for you: Danger Dog, by Lynn Hall. Here's the basic plot:

Adorable little boy gets pet cocker spaniel, and parents say he has to take care of it or else. But he doesn't realize that you have to brush cockers constantly or they get all matted (BECAUSE HE'S 6) so the parents take the dog to the pound and it gets put to sleep! and the boy has to live with that guilt for the rest of his days!

Then, when he's a teen, he somehow convinces his dad to let him adopt this doberman, and he's super conscientious & takes the dobie to obedience classes & trains it super well. but then one day the doberman attacks a little girl! and the boy has to STAB HIS OWN DOG WITH AN ARROW AND KILL IT because EVERY DOG THIS BOY LOVES WILL DIE BY HIS HANDS.

and then in the end he gets a golden retriever puppy. the end.

I'm obviously against censorship, but I strongly believe every copy of this book should be pulled off the shelves and burned.

With a pitch like that, I went and ordered a copy right then and there. Molly’s description is pretty accurate, but she left out the part where Max the doberman kills some lady’s tiny dog in the park, and David, our protagonist, freaks out and stuffs the dog corpse in a nearby trashcan. Class. And oops, I guess we just spoiled the entire book for you, but it doesn’t matter because you’re not going to read this book. 1) there were only like three copies on Thriftbooks, and now I have one of them, and 2) DID YOU NOT JUST READ THAT DESCRIPTION? Nobody should read this book.

BFF Charm: Maybe

David is a really, really good kid--very sweet, very loyal, and way too responsible for his thirteen years. On the one hand, I just want to give him a hug and tell him to lighten up. He’s carrying way too much guilt he doesn’t deserve and needs to enjoy being a 13 year old boy while he can.

On the other hand, David has a lot of emotional baggage that I’m not really equipped to deal with, you know? I’m not sure I’d really want to get too close to him. I’d always be afraid I’d screw him up more (although I don’t see how I could do a worse job than his parents. Jesus.)

Swoonworthy Scale: 0

The only ladies in this book are Natalie, David’s accidental mother and terrible parent, Sally, the dog trainer David befriends, and Joyce, the annoying 8 year old who gets mauled by Max at the end of the book and will require extensive reconstructive surgery later in life. So romance is pretty thin on the ground here.

Talky Talk: Freshman Psych Rears Its Ugly Head

Since most of the plot of the book is driven by David’s crippling guilt about the death of his first dog, Corky, it makes sense that Hall would spend some time examining his inner turmoil. Unfortunately, I felt a little like she was beating me over the head:

While his hand was at his side, he pinched the roll of excess David above his belt and wondered if it might be getting a little smaller after all. He looked down at Max, at the sleek hardness of the animal, and suddenly understood another facet of the attraction he had felt when he first saw Max in the courtroom five days ago. Max was what David wished to be.

Hall doesn’t limit her psychoanalysis to David, either. We also get the motives of almost every single character laid out for us, too! Like David’s dad, for instance:

Yes, I guess the underdog has always appealed to me. I probably have a savior complex or something. I like the idea of saving people for whom I’m their only hope. The rich clients can get anyone. They don’t need me as much as the poor guy who i definitely going to get the short end of the judicial system unless I’m good at my job. Does that make any sense to you?

At some point, isn’t your writing more powerful if you don’t have to spell everything out to your readers? Teen readers! They’re not as dumb as you think they are!

Bonus Factor: Dogs

Dogs aren’t really my thing, but I accept that they are for a lot of people. And even I think some dogs are pretty fabulous. Like Jenny’s dog, Maudy, here! She is the best. And apparently this blog is just turning into a photo repository for Jenny’s pets. Ah well, the internet loves pictures of cute animals.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Dog People

Ugh, dog people. Now before you dog people come after me, I didn’t say dog persons. Individually, you’re fine! I get that you love your dogs like children, even if I don’t fully understand it, and I’m happy that you’re happy. It’s when you get together with other dog persons that’s a problem. Then you become dog people, and you are physically incapable of discoursing on any other subject.

It’s like how I’m in grad school right now, and obviously I must be really interested in my field of study because I’m taking the time (and the money) to be here. But that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy other activities or at the very least feign interest a conversation on a non-school related subject. Not so with some of the people here! Like, I applaud your enthusiasm, but just stop with the recreational academia. NO. A little diversity of interests would do you good.

This is how I feel about dog people. See also: cat people, Facebook friends with babies, Vegans.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Patty Chase Award for Terrible Parenting

David’s parents are THE VERY WORST. I’m not a parent and can barely function as an adult, but some things that seem like no-brainers even to me seem harder for Mr. and Mrs. David to grasp. So here’s a small checklist of things you probably shouldn’t do as a parent:

1.  Volunteer to your young son that he was an accident and that you’d never wanted or intended to have a child, all in the name of “treating children like adults.”
2.  Get your six year old a breed of dog that is incredibly difficult to upkeep properly.
3.  Do not bother to learn how to upkeep said dog, nor help your six year old learn. Blame your six year old when the dog becomes matted and unhygienic.
4.  Force your six year old to take the dog back to the pound because he’s an irresponsible pet owner.
5.  Find out the dog has been put to sleep. Tell your six year old.
6.  Allow years to pass with your son feeling incredibly guilty for something that was, quite frankly, your fault and not his.
7.  Allow your 13 year old son to adopt a trained attack dog that has already been taken to court for maiming a delivery man, even though he is clearly just acting out on the years of guilt he’s felt over his previous dog’s death, which, again, you created.
8.  Even when the dog shows violent tendencies towards you and other people, allow your son to keep it.
9.  Allow things to escalate to the point where your son has to stab his own dog to death. (Related: why are you allowing your 13 year old to carry weapons around?)
10.  Get son to adopt a replacement dog. Think this will solve all your problems.

I mean, those all seem like pretty bad parenting choices, right? Parents? What is your read on the situation? I mean, I know you are supposed to let kids develop their decision making skills so they can understand responsibility and consequences, but this seems a little extreme, no?

There’s an importance of context that needs to be considered. For instance, I was always allowed to pick my own clothes as a wee lass, so I spent most of my childhood traipsing around town looking like Cyndi Lauper. But my parents would not have let me go out in seasonally inappropriate attire when I was four just because I wanted to wear my favorite sundress out in the snow. There’s a time and a place to let your kids make decisions. Six years old and having to figure out how to care for a cocker spaniel by yourself is not that time.

Casting Call:

Rico Rodriguez as David

Relationship Status: I Need An Intervention

I knew this book was bad news from the start. I’d been warned, and yet my self-destructive tendencies couldn’t escape it’s irresistible pull. I clearly need some help, guys. I keep going out with obviously terrible books because I think it’ll be hilarious. And it’s all fun and games until someone stabs their own dog to death, or worse, has sex in leather pants. SOMEBODY SAVE ME FROM MYSELF.

Alix West's photo About the Author: Alix is a writer and illustrator who spends way too much time reading Jane Austen retellings of varying quality.
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