Teen Book Review

Notes From The Dog by Gary Paulsen

With summer vacation only a few weeks away, I’m sure many of you are making plans for what to do with your free time.  But as the saying goes, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”  Don’t believe me?  Just ask Finn, the narrator of Gary Paulsen’s short novel Notes From the Dog.  Read my summary and review below to learn how Finn’s story changes from what he wants to what he needs.  
 
Finn has always had trouble talking to people, so his plans for the summer consist of sitting on the front stoop of his house with his dog Dylan and his best friend Matthew and plowing through a library’s worth of books.  But all that changes when Johanna, who is undergoing chemo for breast cancer, drops into his life.  She’s housesitting next door, and would love to create a garden in the house but cannot.  So she hires Finn to create a garden in his backyard for her.  Finn’s not much of a gardener, and hilarity ensues.  But Johanna’s subtle encouragement (and some not-so-secret notes passed on by Dylan) brings out Finn’s other talents and gets him to connect with people, even as she fights her own losing battle with cancer.  
 
The plot of this book moves at a madcap pace; Finn’s social life improves in direct proportion to his gardening and nature mishaps. While Finn’s growth from introvert to extrovert is the main force of the novel, Johanna’s character is also explored through Finn’s observations. It’s hard not to love Johanna for her enthusiasm, even in the face of her difficult medical condition.  Many subplots are woven into the novel and might be great speculative fiction writing.  Will Finn’s dad marry Fernanda?  Will his Grandpa and Auntie Bean continue “living in sin?” Will Finn end up dating Karla, despite the accident with the self-tanning lotion and the poison ivy?  At less than one hundred and fifty pages, this is a great work for reluctant readers.  
 
Notes From The Dog is recommended for early- to mid-teen readers.  Check it out with other books by Gary Paulsen at Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library or your local DC Public Library branch today.