Background: I don't have a particularly good memory. But Leslie Margolis' Boys Are Dogs made me remember the boy who threw my yearbook out of the window in junior high (in the rain, no less). And the boy I disliked so much, for reasons I can't now recall, that I put thumbtacks on his chair in homeroom (sorry!). And the boy who wrote "Keep up your studying. It's the only thing you can do" in my yearbook in eighth grade (what possessed me to ask him to write in my yearbook I can't recall).
Review: In Boys are Dogs, Leslie Margolis captures the thought processes of an 11-year-old girl who not only doesn't like boys, but finds them a source of stress, revulsion, and terror. When Annabelle's mother moves them in with her boyfriend (Ted, aka Dweeble), Annabelle has to leave her apartment, her friends, and her all-girls elementary school to live in the suburbs and start 6th grade at Birchwood Middle School. There, she quickly finds a set of girlfriends, but finds herself mercilessly tormented by the middle school boys.
To soften the blow of the move (and perhaps to distract Annabelle), her mom and Ted get her an untrained young puppy. Though she tries to resist this blatant bribe, Annabelle is smitten, and spends considerable effort training her dog. One day, she accidentally uses one of the dog-training tips to deal with a pesky boy. And it works! Annabelle then sets out on an ambitious boy-training program, using her dog-training book as a guide. While the results are somewhat mixed, it's an entertaining ride.
Here are a couple of examples:
"But that was all before the boys showed up (to a camp dance).
They filed off their bus, messy-haired and slouchy. Every single one of them wore regular old shorts or jeans and ratty T-shifts.
Once inside, they stood in one corner in an unfriendly, lumpy clump. Instead of dancing, they pushed each other around. Rather than eat our food, they threw it at one another. Then they tore down our streamers ... Those middle school boys acted like a pack of wild dogs. But I didn't know it then. And by the time I figured it out, it was almost too late." (Page 2-3)
"My mind raced. Starting tomorrow, I'd have six different teachers instead of one. This would be the first time I'd be at school without a uniform. I liked the new jeans and pink T-shirt I planned to wear just find, but what if they were the wrong kind? Or what if Rachel made a mistake and no one else wore jeans on the first day of school?" (Page 34)
"Just hearing his name made me feel queasy. I couldn't even say it out loud, which meant that Jackson was my Voldemort, basically." (Page 178)
I liked Annabelle's close relationship with her mother, and her slowly developing relationship with stepfather-figure Ted (who listens to Meatloaf, and wears embarrassing running clothes). The transitional difficulties of the family's moving in together (the way that mom goes from eating takeout at the coffee table to using placemats and napkins to accompany home-cooked meals, Annabelle's mortification at having to fold Ted's running shorts, etc.), felt real to me. I personally found the one-sidedness of Annabelle's view of the boys at her school a bit off-putting, and the ease with which she found a set a friends a trifle implausible, but I doubt that either of these things will be a negative for the target audience.
I think that tween girls who are about to start middle school will really enjoy Boys are Dogs (though I wouldn't bother to offer this one to boys). It's light and funny, with a cute cover and an engaging protagonist. I know that a lot of librarians are constantly on the lookout for books for tween girls, and this one fits the bill. There is a sequel, Girls Acting Catty, in the works.
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books
Publication Date: September 2, 2008
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: Provo City Library's Children's Book Review, Mainstream Fiction, Flamingnet
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.