Monday, May 24, 2010

Paralyzed by fear

The Leanin' Dog, by K. A. Nuzum--Dessa Dean is eleven years old. She and her father live in the woods, trapping, hunting, and fishing for their food. As the book opens, Dessa Dean is trying to work up the courage to step off the porch, into the snow. Fear holds her back. We learn that a while back her mother, a diabetic, fell into a coma and froze in the snowy woods while Dessa Dean looked on helplessly. Her own ear-tips were deadened by frost-bite by the time her father discovered her sitting by Josie's body. Since he brought her home, Dessa Dean has been unable to leave the house, not even to go to the outhouse. She stays inside, cooking, cleaning, and doing all the things her mother used to do, in addition to her schoolwork. One day, while her father is out hunting and checking his traps, there comes a scratching at the cabin door.

Dessa Dean opens the door to discover a dog, a beautiful fudge-colored dog, favoring one leg as she runs off the porch and back to the woods. The book chronicles Dessa Dean's efforts to befriend the dog and the dog's efforts to protect Dessa Dean. It is beautifully written, although I think younger readers will be a bit put off by the lengthy descriptions of Dessa Dean's meal preparations. These things are important, though, as they show us how little Dessa Dean and her father have and how hard they have to work for everything they do have. When disaster strikes, we have a deeper understanding of the devastation. This book is on the Children's list, but older children and teens will have a better appreciation for the details and themes.

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