Book Review: Notes From the Dog by Gary Paulsen

Title: Notes From the Dog

Author: Gary Paulsen

Genre: Middle Grade Realistic Fiction

Number of Pages: 133

Rating: B

Recommended?: Yes



     Notes From the Dog is a charming if somewhat insubstantial middle grade novel about a fourteen-year-old misfit who befriends a young woman with cancer. He’s socially anxious and introverted and wants to interact with as few other people as possible over the course of his summer vacation.


    Then he meets Johanna, an outgoing young woman who’s housesitting in his elderly neighbor’s home. She initiates him to help her grow a garden in his backyard and her infectious enthusiasm is hard to resist. When Finn and his friend Matthew find out Johanna has breast cancer, they help her gather money for research and participate in a charity event.


    Despite his loner ways, Finn finds himself coming out of his shell with the hope of Johanna, Matthew, and his titular dog Dylan. I forgot to mention Dylan, but he’s pretty great and an integral part of Finn’s life. I related to Finn’s character because I too have social anxiety and have trouble talking to other people. His lack of confidence was so understandable, and I also appreciated that it didn’t end the way I expected it to.


     I guess my only issue with the book was that none of the characters were developed that well except for Finn. Matthew had the tough-love best friend thing going but he was ultimately very forgettable, and Johanna fell into the disability/illness trope of mostly existing to help Finn come out of his shell. She remained a mystery throughout, and we only got to see her good, uplifting side.



    I wanted to know more about her! She had so much potential, and I felt like the author kind of wasted it. This is my first book by Gary Paulsen and I understand that he unfortunately died recently. This book did make me want to check out more of his novels, because he is (was) a talented storyteller who seems to have good insight into the minds of adolescent boys. I enjoyed getting to know Finn and seeing his gradual journey out of misanthropy and loneliness. 


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