Dog Gone by Cynthia Chapman Willis is a book that dog-lovers of all ages will enjoy. It’s about love and loss and about friendship and loyalty.
Dill (short for Dylan–her parents’ favorite singer) lives with her father and grandfather. Her mother recently died and Dill cannot bring herself to say the word “death,” refuses to visit her grave, and won’t talk about it at all. Her father has retreated into his farming store where he stays all day and most nights–drowning in his own grief. G.D., Dill’s grandfather, is the only adult whom Dill feels she can talk to.
Dill also has a friend, Cub, whose father is the local pastor. Cub’s family is overflowing, standing in stark contrast to Dill’s empty house and single child status. Cub complains about his many siblings and about always wearing hand-me-down clothes, but Dill envies him his siblings and both parents.
The hub of the story is the character who appears least in the pages. Dead End, named for the street where he was found, has been running with a bad crowd. Literally. He has been seen in the company of a pack of dogs who are killing farm animals (sheep, baby steer, goats) in the area.
Dill has dealt with not only her mother’s death, but the loss of most of the animals around their farm. Her mother rescued injured or “defective” animals and kept them at the farm. But Dill’s father got rid of the one-eyed goat, the two cats, the rabbits, and the rest when Dill’s mom died. They reminded him too much of her and of his loss.
Dill did manage to keep the dog her mother loved–Dead End. But Dead End seems determined to be anywhere but at home. Is he looking for her mother (as Dill believes)? Has he turned bad?
When the neighbors get guns and want to kill the dogs responsible for the carnage, Dill realizes that she must do something to protect Dead End, especially because she thinks he may be responsible for the deaths.
The story is very touching and will have the readers wanting to finish it to find out how the story ends. Does Dead End live? Does Dill run away with him? The story also touches on bullying through the presence of Skeeter, a character with no friends, who in his jealousy of Cub and Dill’s friendship threatens them in his effort to make them include him in their circle.
A few minor problems with the book: the cover photo of a beautiful dog whose description does not match that of Dead End at all, and the fact that the middle part of the story drags. I believe that thirty to fifty pages could have been cut from this story and it would have been a tighter tale.
The author’s website includes information about her childhood and pets.