By Gary Paulsen and Jim Paulsen. Wendy Lamb Books. $12.99.
When Dad pulls an “instant” short road trip to rescue a border collie puppy on a sleepy-eyed son on summer vacation, get ready for fireworks and plenty of curves in the road ahead.
But the theatrics in this delightful children’s volume aren’t limited to this pair and their 15-year-old border collie Atticus. The unofficial family enlarges when Ben, the son, invites his trouble-prone friend Theo to come along for the ride.
The dynamics start early as Dad tells Ben he has lost his job and decides to become a house flipper – he buys fixer-uppers, repairs, remodels and sells them – after years in the insurance business. The hook is that he would like Ben’s assistance during summer vacation.
A short time after Dad, Ben and Theo hit the road, the pickup truck’s engine throws a rod, forcing them to limp into a garage. Add a new character, Gus, a mechanic, to the mix. Recognizing Dad needs to quickly reach the shelter housing the border collie, Gus loans him a recently repaired school bus with the mandate he come along.
It isn’t long before they add Mia, an underappreciated waitress, to their entourage. They meet her at a stop during a volatile encounter with a customer, who unbeknownst to them is following Theo, on the run.
The authors add a nice touch of first-dog Atticus speak between each chapter, getting its perspective of the bizarre unfolding of events, and how he views adding the puppy to their household.
The trip isn’t without the unexpected, either, including a drag race with a cop who pulls Dad over for speeding, his second speeding infraction of the day, and plenty of surprises when the traveling party reaches its destination to pick up the border collie puppy Conor, who brings everyone together.
Lessons are learned, large doses of sentiment are served and trusts are cultivated in this breezy mix of angst and anticipation.
But bottom line, the authors’ establish, is the role of dogs in their home: “Dogs never lie or cheat, and their default setting is love. Some may seem grumpy, but all dogs have honor, humor and dignity, and, if you’re really lucky and you pay attention, they will bring out those same characteristics in you.”