Before we even open to the first page, the cover reveals the mystery of the title. The jacket of “Seven Perfect Things” by Catherine Ryan Hyde is adorned with adorable, sleeping puppies. And when thirteen-year-old Abby’s abusive father tells her that nothing in life is perfect, and even dares her to “name one thing in this life that’s perfect,” she responds that she could name seven. We know that these seven perfect things, the “things” that changed Abby’s life, were once so unwanted and considered so imperfect that someone put these precious puppies in a bag and threw them off a bridge to drown in a river.
But Abby was on her school’s swim team, and when she saw the bag move and realized that something alive was in it, she didn’t hesitate. She dove into the murky river and managed to keep the bag with its live cargo out of the water as she swam them all to safety. When the first puppy emerged from the bag, Abby was delighted. But there were seven. What does one do with seven puppies?
Abby brought them to the local shelter, where the bitter reality of rural shelters was revealed to her, and she was told there was no space for them and that they would be killed immediately. Just the act of walking with them a few miles to the shelter had resulted in Abby’s becoming emotionally attached to the cute, helpless pups. But her home life was far from perfect, and her father was distant at best and verbally abusive at worst to both Abby and her mother. She knew that there was no way she’d be able to keep the puppies in her emotionally frigid home.
Abby isn’t the only person we meet through Hyde’s careful narration. We also get to know her mother, Mary, and learn about her insecurities and how she married a man and ended up in a similar abusive marriage to the one she witnessed in her own childhood home. And then there’s Elliot, a recent widower who went to visit his hunting cabin to process his grief after the tragic and premature death of his wife. What Elliot does not expect to find is that many of his possessions were stolen after someone broke into his cabin and the shed, and instead of a generator, the shed is filled with seven rambunctious puppies.
This serendipitous meeting of Abby and Elliot provides benefits to both of them. For almost the first time in Abby’s life, there is a man she trusts to do the right thing. She talks to Elliot in ways that she hasn’t been able to talk to her mother and certainly not to her father. She shares the fear that stalks her and her mother as her father’s jealousy and suspicious nature twist normal relationships and friendships into something sinister. As a result, we learn that Mary has to sneak out to meet with her friend.
When Abby’s father finds out about their friendship with a man, especially when he follows Mary and sees her with Elliot, he whisks Abby and Mary away before they can talk to anyone to let them know. Mary and Abby are prisoners, each staying out of concern for the other. The third person narration alternates between the three main characters and allows us to see the events from each of the three main characters’ points of view.
But Abby is the main character, and she is the one who changes the most in the story. It’s as if Elliot is a catalyst, and his calm, unthreatening, compassionate nature gives Abby a glimpse into what a normal father-figure could be. And while Elliot does effect change by showing Abby possibilities, he is also changed by Abby’s determination and strength. In this novel, Ryan Hyde clearly demonstrates her uncanny ability to show human nature at both its best and worst, in ordinary people who sometimes do extraordinary things. And while the puppies don’t become characters in the story, they are certainly the catalyst that brings the characters together, and, more importantly, shows us that the power of love for a dependent animal can make us beg, borrow, and move mountains.
Please note: This review was first posted on Bookreporter.com.