cover image One Small Dog

One Small Dog

Johanna Hurwitz. HarperCollins Publishers, $15.95 (128pp) ISBN 978-0-688-17382-1

Hurwitz (Make Room for Elisa) affectingly treats two familiar themes in the plot of her latest novel divorce and pet ownership and places the rigors of childhood front and center. Ten-year-old Curtis, smarting from his parents' recent separation, narrates in a candid and endearing voice. For instance, in his response to his mother's statement that ""half the couples in the United States are getting divorced these days,"" and he'll get used to it, he says: ""`Yeah. But it stinks. Why couldn't we be part of the half that stays together?' I wanted to say more, but I was afraid I'd start crying."" In an effort to make him happier, his mother agrees to Curtis's pleas for a dog, a request that his parents have turned down in the past. They head to a shelter, and the quickly adopted Sammy seems to be a panacea for Curtis's malaise. Yet several mishaps reveal the complications of owning a dog, the most serious of which occur when the feisty pooch bites Curtis's mother, three-year-old brother and--in a final wrenching scene--Curtis himself. In a concluding note to this poignant tale, a professional dog trainer emphasizes the importance of proper training of dogs. Hurwitz raises two difficult issues responsibly and credibly, and deGroat's finely etched, black-and-white illustrations underscore the genuine emotion that runs through this elucidating story. Ages 7-up. (Aug.)