Rachel Anderson’s The Puppy Predicament (Late November Literary, 153 pp. $14.95, paper; $2.99, Kindle), is a delightful story for young readers. This is Anderson’s first children’s novel and came after many years of her carrying the story idea around with her.
The story, in a nutshell: Emily Hanover is a sixth grader living with her parents in rural America during the Vietnam War. Her brother, Greg, is serving there. So is a neighbor, Paul.
The family’s clothes are hung to dry on a line in the backyard and the family has to wait their turn to use their telephone because they’re on a party line. Oh, and the neighbors, Paul’s parents, have a dog who has just given birth to a litter of ten puppies. Emily hears the neighbor refer to the newborns as “mutts” and fears the fact they could be in danger.
Her parents won’t let Emily have one of the puppies, but she gets a wagon and takes the mother and her pups to a hidden place. In her mind she has rescued them. She worries about how she’s going to keep them hidden and how she can feed them. These concerns are added to another one that never seems to go away. She worries about her brother and knows her parents and neighbors worry, too.
At school her teacher points to Vietnam on a world map. To Emily it seems her brother is so far away he “might as well be on the moon.” Still, Emily wishes she could go there and bring him back home.
One day the neighbors learn their son is missing in action. When Emily hears the news she immediately thinks her brother will be able to find his friend. Work on the farm goes on, school goes on. A cousin tells her how “brave” she was to rescue the puppies, giving her a sense of pride, and the feeling that her brother and his friend are both really brave, too.
But now her mom seems to be different. More serious, kind of sad. Emily sneaks an envelope out of her mother’s apron. It’s a recent letter from her brother in which he writes of danger and being afraid. Anderson explains Emily’s reaction this way: “Emily put the letter on the floor, pulled her knees to her chest and bawled. Nothing would be the same now that she knew the truth. Nothing.”
Fortunately, Emily has those ten puppies to focus on and to keep her from worrying too much about her brother. But then the letters stop coming.
While her Mom says, “No news can be good news,” Emily is not so sure.
Aimed at a reading level of 7-12 years, this engaging, fast-moving story covers serious issues and does so in a serious manner. But it’s appropriately upbeat ending will make it a book youngsters will be glad they read and older folks will be happy to share it with their children and grandchildren.