Orphaned stray dogs Bone and his sister, Squirrel, are left to fend for themselves in the great outdoors, not knowing where their next meal will come from. These two survivors have a strong sense of family—that is, until fate separates the two and Bone is left, alone and scared, to find a new home.

Bone’s canine adventures are only one of a trio of tales that make up Ann M. Martin’s latest book for middle grade readers. In alternating chapters, we are introduced to young Henry—who wants a dog so badly that he asks for a dog, and everything for a dog, on each year’s Christmas list. And then there’s Charlie, who loses his brother and finds companionship and solace with his own dog—until tragedy strikes again.

Each well-paced story is interesting enough to propel readers into the book, wanting to know what’s next for Bone, Henry and Charlie. Chapters shift back and forth among the three—until the story takes an interesting and unexpected turn, intertwining the three main characters.

It’s hard enough to write one solid and satisfying story with well-drawn characters. It’s even harder still to write three. Toughest of all, perhaps, is weaving those three tales together seamlessly. But that’s exactly what Martin manages in a novel that explores the themes of survival, companionship, family and the importance of home.

By the end of the book, readers gain greater insights into Bone, Henry and Charlie—and how those themes impact them all and change their lives, mostly for the better. To be sure, there is plenty of harsh realism (among them, hunters, hunger and loss), but Martin’s compassion for canines is at its best here—leading to a satisfying and entirely believable ending.

Dog owner Martin is also author of the critically acclaimed A Dog’s Life, and she’s truly found her niche with animal stories that are both touching and compelling. Fellow dog lovers—and even those without a penchant for pets—are sure to share her compassion for Bone, Henry, Charlie and the entire cast.

Freelance writer and former children’s librarian Sharon Verbeten lives in De Pere, Wisconsin, where she is one of the few people in her neighborhood without a dog.

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