Review Blog

Nov 14 2019

A dog's promise by W. Bruce Cameron

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Pan Books, 2019. ISBN: 9781529010084.
A dog's promise reminds me of the literary tradition of family sagas, in which the personal travails of families are set in the context of societal upheavals. The story follows Burke, brother Grant, father Chase and Chase's mother. Other significant characters include Wenling and her Chinese father and American mother.
The book is third in the A dog's purpose series, but it does stand alone.
Its narrator is the dog Bailey, who becomes Cooper, then Riley, then Oscar. We meet Bailey when he is born as Cooper, visualising him becoming Burke's assist dog, whom we first meet as a child in a wheelchair. Together they confront prejudices about disability.
Burke's small farm family faces the environmental and economic impacts of agribusiness. Children strive to break away from parental expectations and brothers fight because they are jealous. Anger leads to lasting grudges. Illness and death feature, too.
Dialogue is crucial in expressing ideas. After one dispute between the brothers, Grandma tells Grant not to hurt Burke because, 'You shouldn't take your frustrations out on others.' Racial prejudice is flagged in the following exchange when we find out that Wenling's father is a janitor, not a leader in agribusiness:
'I guess I assumed he was an engineer', said Chase.
Why, because he's Asian? Wenling asked.
'Yeah . . . you got me. I'm sorry'. (p. 192)
Bruce Cameron writes fluently and preaches that we can choose the thoughts we carry through our lifetime(s). Happiness or anger. Forgiveness or resentment. He also comforts readers with the idea that what goes wrong can be righted by love.
Sometimes there is humour to relieve the tension of sober themes, for example, when Cooper hopes that his people will stop trying to get him excited about a nylon bone.
A dog's promise is long. I'd suggest it to Year 10s and 11s who like stories about families and about dogs. Some may read avidly about the love triangle between brothers. But I find myself wondering. What the dog knows and understands is not always congruous and though the thought that the animals we love may be reincarnated is appealing, I can't suspend my disbelief.
Chris Bourlioufas

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