Certain books should come with a warning label: Do not read in a room full of 7th graders (unless they’re already used to seeing you sob your way through middle grade novels). Cracker! The Best Dog in Vietnam is one of those books.
I know what a gifted writer Cynthia Kadohata is, but I still wasn’t expecting to fall in love with this book the way I did. I’m…er…not exactly a dog person. There are certain dogs I really like, but I don’t like it when strange dogs come bounding up and jump on me during my morning run. Anyway, I thought this might be a book for dog people, but it’s much more than that.
Cynthia Kadohata does a remarkable job letting us inside the minds of Rick, an angry young man who is sent off to Vietnam as a new dog handler and his dog, Cracker. When the narrative slips into Cracker’s point of view, it does so seamlessly and convincingly. Not surprisingly, Rick is changed dramatically by his experiences in Vietnam and by the relationship he forges with Cracker. Cracker, too, becomes a different kind of dog – more in tune with her instincts and committed to the job she has been given.
Cracker’s story is compelling and eye-opening, and this novel provides a realistic look at what went on in Vietnam while remaining appropriate for older middle grade readers. This is probably one for the 10-14 crowd, and it’s not a book that’s just for boys. The 7th grade girl I loaned it to this week returned it with a glowing review the next day.
Meanwhile, I’m still wiping my eyes, but in a good way. Cracker, Rick, and Cynthia Kadohata won my heart with this one – a historical novel and dog story that’s not just for dog lovers and history buffs, but for all of us.