In “Maxi’s Secrets (Or, What You Can Learn From a Dog),” Lynn Plourde tells the reader, on the very first page, that the dog dies.
Why, then, did this book reviewer — who tells kids to stay far away from books like “Old Yeller” and “Where the Red Fern Grows” and, indeed, any book where the dog dies — read it?
The author gets points for honesty. And I thought (erroneously) that knowing up front that the dogs dies would make it easier. It didn’t.
But somehow, knowing up front that Maxi, this incredibly wonderful, intelligent, intuitive, beautiful Great Pyrenees, is going to die makes it a bit easier. As much as the reader falls in love with Maxi and the other characters, in the back of our minds is the fact that, “she’s gonna die, don’t forget.”
The story is just as beautiful as the dog. Timminy, a very short kid with an unusual name, moves to Skenago, a small town in rural Maine where his father is the new Assistant Principal at the middle school which Timminy will attend. To make up for the move from Portland, his parents agree to get him a dog. They get a Great Pyrenees puppy.
By the time they realize that Maxi is deaf, there is no way they are giving her up. The story is narrated by Timminy, and it’s a narrative filled with humor and irony.
Maxi, the stunning puppy, is the central point, the glue that binds together many of the diverse characters. Everyone loves Maxi — and she is supremely deserving of that love. She saves lives; the life of a tiny bird, the life of a human. She teaches Timminy many things, all of which are listed, one at a time, at the end of each chapter. “Secrets” like: You can learn a lot from a dog you love; it’s possible to hear someone even if your ears don’t work; and the one that all dog lovers know: there’s nothing so bad in the world that dog kisses won’t make it better.
The book is filled with diversity, disabilities, and characters who aren’t what they appear to be. Timminy has two next-door neighbors who end up being important parts of the story. In a beautiful example of writing, both characters really help Timminy grow and mature, while also exemplifying the fact that stereotypes are usually very misleading; don’t trust them.
The book is touching, funny, clever, and emotional. Be prepared to cry. Don’t miss it no matter your age. This would be a great read aloud for a class from fourth grade on, so long as the reader is able to get through the end without falling into sobs. It’ll be a challenge.
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by the publisher, Nancy Paulsen Books, for review purposes.