Because Sarah Lean’s first novel features an Irish wolfhound, who looks like he would go to the ends of the earth to save his master, A Dog Called Homeless is a dog story, but it is also a ghost story, a coming-of-age story, and a story somewhat reminiscent of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, which also features a female protagonist whose selective mutism follows personal tragedy. Because Lean’s tale embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences, the book also deserves a look by the Schneider Family Book Awards committee. With all of its identities, this author’s first novel has multi-audience appeal.
As the story opens, eleven year old Cally Fisher sees the ghost of her mom wearing a red raincoat and a green rain hat, balancing, smiling, swaying, and wobbling as she walks along the cemetery wall during her own funeral. But no one else sees or believes Cally’s vision. To cope with his own grief, Cally’s dad tries to erase the family’s past—unwilling and unable to talk about his former wife, Louise Fisher. Cally, on the other hand, wishes to talk about her and remember her and make her presence felt. Uncomfortable with the death-knelling silence and hoping that her dad will bring her deceased mother back with words, Cally stops talking.
During her self-sponsored silence, Cally encounters a homeless man named Jed and his mysterious companion, a giant silver-gray dog. As she attempts to unravel the mystery of these two and their connection to her mother’s ghost, she also meets Sam—a young man who is legally blind, nearly deaf, and suffering from a heart murmur. Although Sam’s disabilities limit his body, they do not limit his mind nor his heart, which murmurs messages of immeasurable compassion and understanding. Resembling a magic potion or an angel from another world, Sam provides a balm to Cally, making her feel like she isn’t weird or crazy or stupid. Like little cogs from a machine, the two forge a mutually dependent friendship—communicating in a Braille signing mode which involves tapping letters out onto the palm.
Similar to Sam’s ability as a confidant, the Irish wolfhound performs grief therapy for Cally, supplying hope, communicating affection, and listening to her woes. Cally’s father, however, will not budge on the subject of owning a dog. Another character with therapeutic power is Mr. Crisp, the music teacher who reminds Cally how “singing is like knitting; it ties everything together, especially people” (12), leaving no one out. From Lean’s book, readers learn that silence can sometimes be really uncomfortable—like trying to fit all your memorable possessions into cardboard boxes and moving from the home where your memories still live—but it can also be a cocoon that helps to protect a fragile creature during transformation. On her tearful and poignant journey, Cally—along with the reader—realizes that speaking isn’t the only way to get what we want.
- Posted by Donna