Maury is terrified when he hears howling coming from the woods. When he goes to see what's making the noise, he finds a shivering dog tangled in blackberry vines. Maury realizes that it's his brother Ben's dog, Mack. Ben gave Mack to a friend before he left for the army, but Mack has come back home. There is nothing Maury wants more than to keep the dog that once belonged to his brother. But Maury's father sees Mack as a constant reminder of his eldest son, who abandoned the family farm to go fight a war. . . .
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In this heart-tugging period piece about a poor but proud farming family, Strickland (The Specter From the Magician's Museum, not reviewed, etc.) invites readers into the world of backcountry Georgia at the time of WWII. When ten-year-old Maury discovers a sick and starving dog lying amidst a tangle of blackberry vines, he's convinced that it's Mack, a young pup that his older brother Ben gave away to a friend when Ben enlisted in the service. But Maury's father, a pragmatic and angry man, has no time for such impractical foolishness, especially not for anything that reminds him of his elder son, who left home against his father's wishes. Times are hard, and money is scarce with no extra to waste on a sick dog. Maury, determined to save the sick pup, trades his Christmas gift--a used blue bicycle--to a friend in exchange for money to take Mack to the vet, a kind man who understands the boy's need for a companion. These characters could easily have become one-dimensional stereotypes in the hands of a less-skilled author, but Strickland paints a grimly realistic portrait of a family struggling to eke out a living from the land. Rather than an action adventure, this is a quiet story of a boy who learns to accept himself and of a man who learns to value the steadfast loyalty of a dog. Readers who believe in the mystical bond that can exist between people and animals will cheer Mack on as he slowly and quietly helps heal the emotional pain of the Painter family members. (Fiction. 8-12) -- Copyright © 2000 Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.From School Library Journal:
Grade 3-6-A sturdy, somewhat nostalgic tale set in rural Georgia during World War II. Ten-year-old Maury Painter's older brother Ben gave away his dog when he joined the army. When Mack leaves his new owners and struggles to come back to the Painter farm, the boy nurses the animal back to health and is determined to keep him in spite of his father's opposition. The stern and taciturn man is deeply shaken by Ben's enlistment, but deep down, he is a loving husband and father. Where Strickland steps somewhat out of the mold of the typical dog story or coming-of-age tale is in his characterization of Maury as a lover of books. This aspect of the boy's personality comes to the fore in the novel's second half, in which he works hard to prepare himself for a special test that will allow him to skip fifth grade. The author excels at giving insight into the daily life in rural households of the period and in suggesting the impact of the war on ordinary Americans. Though not likely to earn the same kind of devotion as Wilson Rawls's Where the Red Fern Grows (Bantam, 1984) or Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's Shiloh (Atheneum, 1991), Mack is a well-done novel aimed at a younger audience, most of whom will find the story satisfying and involving.
Coop Renner, Moreno Elementary School, El Paso, TX
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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