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Contemporary Realistic Fiction, Family, Loss, Middle Grade Readers, Navigating Difficult Life Situations, Teacher & Parent Recommendations

A HOME FOR GODDESSES AND DOGS by Leslie Connor

I am always drawn to stories that involve dogs…and simultaneously leery of them (because the dog is so often killed off as a plot point in literature). For those of you who are like me: don’t worry. A Home for Goddesses and Dogs is a tender story about a 13-year-old girl finding her way through her grief after the death of her mother. Lydia’s mother has an enlarged heart, a condition for which she has been on the transplant waiting list for three years. When she is passed over for a third time, she makes the decision to take herself off the transplant list and live out her days at home with Lydia. Lydia has researched hospice care and is with her mother when she dies. She then goes to live with her Aunt Brat (mother’s sister) and her wife, Eileen.

Brat and Eileen live in an old farmhouse as roommates with the owner, nonagenarian Elloroy, and their greyhound, Soonie. Having planned to adopt another rescue dog before Lydia moves in with them, Brat and Eileen proceed with this plan two days after Lydia’s arrival. Lydia is decidedly NOT a ‘dog person.’ She’s trying to adjust to one dog in the household and isn’t thrilled about adding another. The big yellow dog with whom they return home is a much bigger challenge for all of them than sweet Soonie. Irritated at having to constantly clean up after him, Lydia nevertheless begins to identify with the dog because they were both ‘adopted’ into the family at the same time. Without realizing it, Lydia winds up loving the dog beyond all reason, often relying on him to help ground herself in those overwhelming moments in a way she never anticipated.

Lydia’s connection to the new dog, named Guffer, runs parallel to her attempts to be cheerful and helpful around the house in an effort to show her gratitude for being taken in. She struggles with memories of her mother that warm her and ones that hurt to think about. She and her mother created the ‘goddesses’ of the title as collages for moments that were either exceptionally difficult or significantly joyful in their lives as they navigated the obstacles presented by her mother’s medical issues. Lydia has brought the goddesses with her to her new home, but is unsure how to fit them back into her life, so they are in a box under her bed. Creating art has always been healing for Lydia and her mother and now that her mother is gone, Lydia is struggling to create again.

Lydia’s story touches on family, on what it means to love each other, on the connection we so often have with our canine companions and how creating art can move us through an acknowledgment of what we are thinking and feeling when language seems incapable of expressing it accurately. Lydia’s journey is slow. She comes to love Guffer without realizing it has happened. She begins friendships without realizing she is doing so. She gradually gives herself permission to create and to love and to laugh without ever giving up her connection to her mother. She is surrounded by loving, personable characters like Brat, Eileen and Elloroy.

There is not a lot of “action” in Lydia’s story. It is precisely this steadiness of pace that makes A Home for Goddesses and Dogs an authentic experience. In the end, all of Lydia’s problems are not solved, but she feels loved, supported and capable of moving forward–which is a beautiful thing.

I will throw in a word of warning: there is a pretty hideous incident that appears to be animal cruelty which plays a tangential role in the whole of the story. Again, this author can be trusted to bring it to a loving conclusion–but it was a tough spot in the book for me.

I identified with so much of Lydia’s emotion toward Guffer and the pull a dog can have on your heart. A Home for Goddesses and Dogs is an uplifting story ideally suited for the middle grade reader–especially if that reader loves dogs or is travelling the grief journey. Highly recommended!

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