________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIII Number 25 . . . . March 10, 2017


Yellow Dog.

Miriam Körner.
Markham, ON: Red Deer Press, 2017.
295 pp., trade pbk., $14.95.
ISBN 978-0-88995-546-2.

Subject Headings:
Coming of age-Juvenile fiction.
Sled dogs-Canada-Juvenile fiction.
Adventure stories, Canadian.

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Jeff Strain.

*** /4



I can't believe how many people want to get rid of their dogs - or their neighbor's dog, because there were quite a few kids who tried to sell me their dog, and I'm sure it wasn't theirs. I had several calls today and Mom told me someone phoned yesterday, as well. That's probably why she wasn't surprised when I told her about my new dog. We agreed on no more than three dogs, which is the town limit, she said. With Acimosis, we'd be one over the limit, but I don't bother her with my math skills.

Plus, I don't think anybody cares how many dogs I have except Mom. I promised her she won't have to remind me to go feed them. She still doesn't trust the old man, but I think she's okay with what I'm doing now.

Billed as a fast-paced, coming-of-age adventure, Yellow Dog is set in a small community in the north and is told by 13-year-old Jeremy as he deals with peer pressure, negotiates questions of loyalty and friendship, and grows into a greater awareness of his community. The story opens with Jeremy being spurred to an act of cruelty to the title's "Yellow Dog" ("Acimosis" or "puppy" in Cree), but this is not the tale of a boy and his dog. Rather, this event draws Jeremy into a relationship with the animal's owner, an old man with mysterious ties to the history of Jeremy's own family. It draws him out of dependence on a still-protective mother and a long-time friend, Justin, an older boy in distress. Under the tutelage of the old man, Jeremy strikes upon the project of assembling and supporting a sled dog team, and he does this by borrowing techniques and equipment all but forgotten by the contemporary world. While this once-essential expertise adds to Jeremy's increasing self-reliance, it also provides a gateway to discovering his own passions, a conduit for connecting to others. He doesn't know it at first, but dog sledding will bring Jeremy closer to the heritage of a father he can't remember and a story his mother hasn't been ready to tell.

      Yellow Dog is written in straightforward and accessible language though there are short technical descriptions which could be supplemented by the rare illustration (the uninitiated, of any age, may have difficulty visualizing such things as a "jigger"). The book provides proper scaffolding for the occasional introduction of non-English terms, and it makes judicious use of the self-questioning monologue so often employed by novels intended for younger readers. Körner depicts both the pleasures and travails of training, supporting, and running dogs, reveals an obvious appreciation for the beauty of a winter landscape, and these things shine through in Jeremy's narration. Though personal to Jeremy on more than one level, the sport or practice of dog sledding is related to the reader as a joy in itself. Over the course of the story, the healing lessons of the dogs, examples of unconditional love and companionship, slowly thread their way through Jeremy and the world of his relationships.

      A strength of the writing is found in Jeremy's understated or matter-of-fact descriptions of his community. On the periphery of Jeremy's experience are suggestions, but not portraits, of such social ills as alcoholism and domestic violence. While these things are not brought into the foreground of the novel, they can inform the relationship between Jeremy and Justin, the latter of whom relies on the former for his school lunch. The town where these boys live requires an annual, three day dog-shooting to keep down the population of stray and feral animals (a source of heart-gripping drama Körner does not fail to exploit), and it struggles to guarantee such necessities as clean drinking water for its citizens. For Jeremy, such things are unremarkable except where they impact on events directly. This is a boy's tale, and certain realities are acknowledged without allowing them to oppress the tone of the story.

      Each of Yellow Dog characters demonstrate flaws or moments of vulnerability, and there can be found in each a degree of isolation. Jeremy's journey begins, as much as anything, with his discovery of the ability to hurt or do harm. It is Jeremy's assumption of responsibility for the dogs, and for setting his own priorities, that will ultimately cause him, and those close to him, to make new discoveries in their abilities to heal, to forgive, and to fulfil the trust of others.


Jeff Strain is a librarian on Vancouver Island.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.

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