Candlewick. May 2021. 208p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781536214116.
Gr 4-6–Ben, a young white boy, and his dog Sunshine are spending a week with Ben’s mom in northern Minnesota. Exploring the lakes and islands of the region, Ben sees moose, white-tailed deer, and a blue heron. His mother left when Ben was three, and his plan is to bring her back home to St. Paul. Living on a remote island, in a cabin with no electricity, Ben’s mom doesn’t seem afraid of anything. But Ben is a “what-if’’ kid; scared of heights, the dark, and getting lost. With Sunshine at his side, he can be brave. After Ben’s mom discovers he has an imaginary dog, she explains, to Ben’s delight, that Sunshine is his guardian spirit. However, when encountering bears, Ben calls out a warning to Sunshine, and endangers their lives. Now his mom suggests it’s time to give up his pretend dog. Bauer keeps the reader wondering why Ben’s mom left the family, creating a sensitive portrait of a woman victim to an abusive mother. That Ben is hiding his anger beneath a multitude of fears feels authentic, and his deep need for the adoring Sunshine will resonate for dog lovers. Descriptive passages of the islands and the trio’s adventures in the Minnesota wilderness are sure to appeal to outdoorsy readers. But the central theme of the book, Ben’s sense of loss and abandonment, informs every part of the narrative as he vacillates between trying to connect with his mother and the anger that’s expressed in his shrugging off her touch.
VERDICT A moving story about a boy and his dog and the solace a pet, real or imagined, can bring.

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