Evie wants to leave her old life behind. Her ugly family life, her ex-boyfriend, the drugs. So she applies to The Sanctuary, a dog rescue center high up in the mountains. She is going to become a dog trainer. Nevermind the fact that she has no experience with dogs. She’s read up enough on the Internet. And then she meets the dogs. Tasha, the Rottweiler, with her polka dots above her eyes. Shadow, the odd mix who refuses to bark. Hank, the dog afraid of sticks. Alfie, the racing greyhound who refuses to race. Josie, the little doggie who wants to fight the world. And Dora, the queen who wants everything her way. Evie is helping to save these dogs. And before she knows it, they are helping to save her.
Source: Received in exchange for review (thanks, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt!)
Everything about the book can be summed up in its characters. It’s a book about transformation, and that’s what makes it so inspiring.
Evie. I loved Evie. She can be very sarcastic and humorous, and she’s also very naïve. As the book goes on, you can really see her grow as a character, which is always lovely. Her backstory is basically that her parents were divorced, and she started doing drugs in college, which subsequently messed up her life. Her parents were honestly horrific, from what Evie tells us about them–she doesn’t say so much, but I think this would be a natural reaction. A lot of the book is about Evie trying to figure out what family means, and trying to find a new one.
Mrs. Auberchon. In a lot of ways, Mrs. Auberchon reminded me of Professor McGonagall from Harry Potter–but not quite. She’s severe and strict, but she’s not confident and kind inside. She’s very, very different in that respect. Mrs. Auberchon made up just about 25% of the book, and her character was very well portrayed. She’s strict, and firm, and doesn’t want to get too attached to anyone. I loved seeing her character develop, but I definitely didn’t like the way it was ended. In some ways, I liked Mrs. Auberchon better than Evie. I felt like the hints dropped at her past were rushed through and included in the last few chapters. I would have actually liked to see more of that side of Mrs. Auberchon. Overall, I loved her character! 😀
Giant George. Giant George was an amazing and well-built character. A sixteen-year-old living at the Sanctuary without his parents, we don’t know much about his past, and he refuses to talk about it. I loved the way he was portrayed with the dogs–he just felt so at home. He adds a light tone to the book which I loved, and he brings out the bet in dogs and humans. While Evie’s still learning–sometimes she swears or yells at one of the dogs–Giant George is patient, her complete opposite. I loved how his arc was wrapped up! It felt very complete.
Tasha. Tasha was definitely my favorite dog in the story. She’s the first dog that Evie really bonds with, and she’s goofy. She’s on the larger side, being a Rottweiler, but she’s really very insecure. She was abused by humans, but now she’s learning, just like Evie, what it means to have a family who really cares about her. I liked how Tasha’s arc was wrapped up at the end of the book. It was closed up, but it had some room for ambiguity.
Boomer. Boomer was honestly the sweetest. He was a goofy little butler dog, who Evie meets when she gets up on the mountain. He was probably my second favorite out of all the dogs. He made me laugh–even though he was an old, arthritic Golden retriever, he still ends up getting into trouble and playing with all the younger dogs. He’s a perfect sort of embodiment of how age doesn’t have to slow you down–although I really just liked him because he was a cute, funny little dog.
Shadow. Shadow is the dog that won’t bark. I felt his arc was over relatively quickly, and although his role was important to Evie, he didn’t have that finite conclusion at the end that I felt he needed to have. He sort of drifted in and out, and he definitely wasn’t the most important dog after the beginning. I definitely didn’t connect with him as much as I needed to, but I liked the role he played in the beginning of the book.
Hank. Like Shadow, Hank’s arc was great, at the beginning. It was over relatively quickly, again, but his was more closed-off than Shadow’s was, which I think was great. It shows a new aspect of Evie’s personality, and we get to see how she copes with the way his arc was closed off (I’ll say no more).
Alfie. Alfie was sort of a central theme of the book–while all the other dogs, and Evie, are getting over their problems and bonding, he is just sitting in a corner, pooping indoors, just waiting for everyone to give up on him. The way his arc ended didn’t feel very closed, but it was a resolution nonetheless, and I liked it.
Josie. Josie’s arc was my favorite one. There was some real transformation there, and I loved the way it was ended. She was my favorite dog, other than Tasha or Boomer, I think, and her arc kind of covered Evie’s, too. I’ll say no more.
Overall, I loved the book. I had a few minor problems with characters, but they really didn’t affect the overall story. However, the ending was left a bit too open for my taste, although I guess that’s just how life goes. I could have used more closure for some of the characters, especially Alfie and Mrs. Auberchon, but other characters’ arcs were wonderful and felt pretty complete (Evie’s, Josie’s, Boomer’s, Tasha’s and George’s). This book is a must-read for all animal lovers! 😀
MY RATING: 3.5/5 WAGGING TAILS
The Mountaintop School for Dogs and Other Second Chances releases from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt August 5th. You can pre-order the book from Amazon.com for $13.49 on Kindle or $18.00 hardcover. The heartwarming story of Evie, Mrs. Auberchon, and several wild little dogs is one that I will want to keep on my shelves and read again and again.
To celebrate the release of the book on August 5th, I’ll be doing an interview with author Ellen Cooney, including her reflections on the book, and what her favorite characters were.