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BOOK REVIEWS, Contemporary Realistic Fiction, MAUD HART LOVELACE NOMINEE, Middle Grade Readers, Read-Aloud Suggestions

LISTEN! by Stephanie S. Tolan…a LOVELACE nominee

Listen! is one of those books that really touch the center of my heart.  It could be because the central relationship is between a young girl and a dog and I am SUCH a dog person.

Charley (Charlene) is recovering from injuries sustained in a serious car accident, from which the other two people walked away with minor cuts.  Her recovery has included hospitals and rigorous physical therapy.  When we meet Charley in the first chapter she is close to the end of her physical recovery. The story opens with Charley taking the walk that her father has harangued her into taking in order to exercise her injured leg.

As she stabs her walking stick into the ground her mind plays over the reasons she is angry with her father.  She fumes about her best friend, who was with her in the car accident but has now left for the summer with another friend while she is left behind while her leg heals.

In the midst of these angry thoughts, the pain from her leg and sweating from her exertions Charley sees a dog.  She and the dog make direct eye contact.  She does not recognize the dog but she feels an instant connection with it–all the way to her very center–when they look at each other.

She discovers the dog is known to be wild, appears to have been abused and lives in the woods.  Charley feels compelled to help this dog:  to feed him and offer him a home, and maybe even a family.  As Charley feels her way along the process of what she calls “The Taming” we also discover that Charley’s mother was a nature photographer and was killed in a plane crash two years earlier.

Perhaps it is the pain Charley has endured that feeds the instant connection she has with the dog she names ‘Coyote.’  After all, he is a survivor too.  Charley’s journey made my heart alternately ache and sing.  I knew exactly what she meant when she described the feeling of touching Coyote for the first time, communicating her own pain without even realizing it.

Charley comes to realize that although she started out to help Coyote, he has helped her to navigate the sadness, the grief and the loss that had been swelling inside her.  Charley’s realization is mirrored to a quieter extent in the reader:  we find that Charley’s journey can offer us a forum for thinking about changes–large and small–and how we deal with them in our lives.

The thoughts, emotions and resolutions in this book are honest and true-to-life.  There are no literary devices to make everything come together to make a “happily ever after” (I loved the ending–but I don’t want to give it away).

In an afterword in the edition I read the author reveals that Coyote is, in fact, a real dog and her experience with Coyote is faithfully recreated in the characters of Charley and Coyote in the book.

This is another Lovelace nominee for which I am grateful, as I probably would not have chosen this book to read on my own–another example of why it is worthwhile to try things you wouldn’t ordinarily.  This book had so much more to tell me than I ever anticipated!  I highly recommend it as an independent or read-aloud selection–especially for those readers who feel a special connection to animals and nature.



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