Walkin’ The Dog by Chris Lynch

Louis is a good kid, but his life isn’t the typical kind you see portrayed in the media. His dad took early retirement from firefighting in the city to become a fisherman in a much more laidback environment. His mom is a perennial do-gooder who wound up getting significantly hurt while breaking up a fight at the women’s shelter where she volunteers, so is now in in-patient rehab, to the dismay of her kids. Louis’ younger sister Faye is a charming know-it-all who’s taken over running their household in the meantime. And his older brother Ike… well, Ike is the real reason they left their old neighborhood behind. Ike did not have a great high school experience, but hopefully high school will be different for Louis and Faye now that they’ve moved away from the city.

Louis is actually pretty worried about starting high school soon. It doesn’t help that he and Faye have been homeschooled up till now. Mom is super smart and fully capable of tutoring kids — hers or others — to success, but even she knows her limitations.

And it isn’t really the academics that worry Louis. He’s a smart kid after all. But he doesn’t really have any friends outside of Faye, which will do very little to help him make a success of his high school career.

That begins to change when his dad asks him to dogsit Amos, the incredibly stinky dog of one of their incredibly stinky neighbors (an unfortunate occupational hazard of the fishing industry.) If Louis walks Amos while his owner helps Dad out on the boat, then both Singletarys can make some money. Louis agrees despite his mother disapproving of his capitalist tendencies, and soon finds himself at the head of a burgeoning dog walking business.

More importantly — and more interestingly — than collecting clients is Louis’ newfound knack for collecting friends. And not just from the ranks of the people who want him to walk their dogs, or even of the dogs themselves. Aggie comes into his life, as does Cy, and soon Louis starts thinking he might actually have a pack of his own to run with. But with Ike constantly looming in the background, and with his worries about Ma never far from his thoughts, will Louis be able to successfully navigate this pivotal summer before high school, and go in to his new academic experience with confidence?

The best things about this Middle Grade novel (and honestly, I think I should finally make a new MG category for this here at The Frumious Consortium, because Walkin’ The Dog is, sure, a children’s book, but it’s not a children’s book,) are the lively, completely believable dialog between the characters as well as Louis’ own inner monolog. Louis is smart and funny and insecure, and has maybe been done a disservice by his parents in not being actively encouraged to make more friends. It’s rare for most non-religious homeschoolers to feel as socially isolated as Louis and Faye do, so idk what was going on there, especially when they’re such likeable kids.

I also loved how the kids, Aggie and Cy included, came together and confronted new problems and worked them out, forming friendships and bonds. I even liked the rapprochement between Louis and Ike, even if I still thought it was weird that the firefighting community Dad had been a part of had been subject to the disrespect that the American policing community has, unfortunately but actually, earned. Like, who hates firefighters? It felt like an odd workaround to an underlying writerly problem that readers weren’t otherwise privy too.

But I think what bothered me the most about this otherwise charming novel was how abruptly the book ended. I suppose, as in real life, that there aren’t really any neat chapters marking the beginning and end of things. The point here, after all, was to describe a pivotal summer. I really did think that the whole thing with Ike should have been better addressed tho, because he really is so much different from the rest of the Singletarys that it almost didn’t feel possible that he was raised by the same parents. Sure there’s a black sheep in every family but I think I would have liked to see the reasons behind this difference better explored.

Overall, however, this was a worthwhile and highly entertaining book about a young man getting ready for high school. There are animal deaths, so be warned if that’s a trigger for you. Walkin’ The Dog is a smart and funny book with unusual characters that covers ground that usually isn’t addressed in most middle grade novels. I liked it a lot, despite my small criticisms.

Walkin’ The Dog by Chris Lynch was published March 12 2024 by Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers and is available from all good booksellers, including

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