Reviews for Notes from the Dog
Booklist Reviews 2009 August #1
Paulsen's latest is the subtle, sensitive tale of 14-year-old Finn and the summer he spends connecting with his next-door neighbor, Johanna--a grad student battling breast cancer. Finn's not much of a people person; in fact, he was hoping he could get through summer without speaking to more than 12 individuals. But Johanna ropes him into working on her garden, and manure incidents and rabbit attacks aside, it's not unpleasant work. Soon Finn finds himself drawn into Johanna's family, which is everything Finn's is not: large, boisterous, and emotional. He ultimately recognizes his time with her as a gift of self-confidence and purpose. This quiet, steady story is light on surprises, but that doesn't mean there aren't moments of power. Johanna's chemo-related vomiting is chillingly offhand, leaving readers to share Finn's mixed sense of embarrassment and horror. The only misstep is the purposefully narrative device of Finn's dog delivering inspirational messages from Johanna. Still, this is an effective homage to cancer survivors everywhere--and the people of all ages who love them. Copyright 2009 Booklist Reviews.
Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2009 #5
Shy fourteen-year-old Finn already has his summer planned. But when twenty-something grad student Johanna moves in next door, instead of the peaceful reading and silence he has in mind, he finds himself gardening, fundraising, and connecting with people. Johanna is going through chemo for breast cancer, and when she asks Finn to work with her on creating a garden in his plain grass yard, he can't turn her down. She also communicates with Finn by sending him anonymous notes delivered by his dog, offering wisdom like "You're not as ugly as you think." Paulsen mixes sorrow and humor, depicting the rough side of chemo realistically, and he shows Finn and his friend Matthew displaying competence and compassion in caring for Johanna in a way that demonstrates to the middle-school audience that taking action to help is much better than turning away. Finn's gardening mishaps -- such as transplanting and caring for poison ivy -- lighten the mood, and the novel's conclusion is triumphant and touching. Copyright 2009 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2009 July #3
Paulsen (Mudshark) writes another touching story about human kindness and humanity. Reclusive and insecure, Finn lives with his father, his dog and his friend Matthew, whose parents are divorcing. Being 14 isn't easy for Finn ("I feel like an alien dropped onto a strange planet and that I always have to be on the lookout for clues and cues on how to act and what to say," he muses), and his plan for summer is to talk to "fewer than a dozen people" and read as many books as possible. However, his intentions are thwarted when 24-year-old Johanna shows up to house-sit for his neighbors. She is lighthearted, imaginative, optimistic and has breast cancer. While Finn is usually overwhelmed by human contact, Johanna's sensitivity is disarming, and she hires him to plant a garden for her as a distraction from her illness. The plot is straightforward, but Paulsen's thoughtful characters are compelling and their interactions realistic. This emotional, coming-of-age journey about taking responsibility for one's own happiness and making personal connections will not disappoint. Ages 12-up. (July) [Page 141]. Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal Reviews 2009 September
Gr 5-9--Fourteen-year-old Finn is terrified of meeting new people, and conversation is painful. His true friend, Matthew, is talkative, overly confident, and sometimes a thorn in his side. The boy is content with books and Dylan, his canine companion. He's determined that his summer vacation will not be marred by the intrusion of people, and thus, the discomfort they cause him. Then he meets his pretty new neighbor, 24-year-old Johanna, who shares her joy of life with Finn and Matthew and employs Finn to help her create gardens in his sorrowful-looking backyard. Johanna's enthusiasm for research, compost, fertilizer, and all things garden break down Finn's barriers. When she tells the boys that she is a breast-cancer survivor, their initial trepidation shifts to friendship. As she trains for a triathlon to raise money for cancer awareness, Finn and Matthew join her team. Right before the race, more adverse reactions to chemotherapy thwart her run, and the two boys take up the torch. Johanna's spirit and optimism infuse Finn with courage and love, and he finds his voice. Paulsen's fans may miss his trademarks: the notorious exploits of boys, the page-turning wilderness adventures, or the sled dogs that often take center stage. Yet this candid and tender tale, told with his signature humor, is a salute to the bravest of the brave.--Alison Follos, North Country School, Lake Placid, NY [Page 170]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
VOYA Reviews 2009 October
This brief novel explores one eventful summer in the life of a meek and geeky teen, Finn, who would rather have his nose in a book than interact with family or friends. Then in moves a force of nature next door named Johanna, a bald but ebullient twentysomething cancer patient. She immediately turns Finn's life upside down by hiring him to plant a garden, coercing him to help her raise funds for a cancer fun run, and making a date for him with a girl he has been too shy to approach. Thrown into this mix are Finn's only real friend, Matthew, his single-parent father, and his unusually human dog, Dylan, who keeps showing up with handwritten notes for Finn in his mouth. Consequently Finn discovers a developing talent for connecting with others as he breaks out of his seclusion and soon the lives of his father and even his granddad are touched by his efforts. There is an undercurrent of lighthearted comedy in Finn's efforts with the garden and his fundraising speeches. Given the brevity of the book and its inclination to be a book for "boys," it could be recommended to reluctant readers. The author certainly has a long history of success in reaching the teen audience, however, in this book, the dialogue and story line seem a little too pleasant and the lives of the teens lack any real angst or conflict outside the horrors of Johanna's chemo side effects.--Kevin Beach. 3Q 3P M J Copyright 2009 Voya Reviews.