Sunday, March 16, 2008

Patti Sherlock, Letters From Wolfie

I wasn't too impressed with this novel, which is the latest work I introduced to my freshmen students. Despite its attempts to question the nature of "sacrifice, loyalty, and the complex meaning of patriotism" in a story set amid the backdrop of the Vietnam conflict, the book was a bit too schmaltzy and melodramatic for my taste. Even my students found it pretty darn'd mediocre.

About the novel: It's 1969, and Mark Cantrell has decided to donate his loveable malamute/German shepherd to the U.S. Army as part of its canine program devoted to training dogs to be scout dogs, sentry dogs, etc. His older brother Danny has recently gone overseas to fight in Vietnam, and when Mark learns that military dogs are considered mere equipment, he petitions the government on behalf of all dogs that they be returned stateside like the soldiers they protect. Along the way, we witness his relationship with his veteran father and his friendship with a "peacenik" girl, Claire, whose brother is a draft dodger ... and lots of other stuff in this lackluster effort.

The problem with this novel is that it's way too cluttered ... My impression is that the author had a good story to tell, but also wanted to follow the typical YA formula -- you gotta have a conflict between your teen protagonist and his parent, you gotta have a love interest, you gotta have a burgeoning relationship with a maverick teacher, you gotta have sibling rivalry, you gotta have a character who changes and learns something about himself via a big, climactic event, blah blah blah ... and by including all the requisite YA trappings, Sherlock leaves us with a hodge-podge of cliched YA storylines that fight with each other for narrative space while, ultimately, all the reader really cares about is ... Mark and Wolfie.

Additionally, I was bothered by the female author's handling of the male point-of-view, which she doesn't convey effectively. If handled well, it can be believeable and downright entertaining (like Cynthia DeFelice's handling of Joe Pedersen in Under The Same Sky). But in this particular instance? It just doesn't work.

Bottom line: Don't waste your time.