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Gr 6-9-A solitary Norwegian elkhound appears in the village street as 11-year-old Joel Gustafson peers out his window on a frigid night. The boy imagines the dog searching for a distant star in the clear, spangled night sky. Living with his lumberjack father in Sweden in 1956, he dreams of having adventures as his father did when he was a sailor. Abandoned by his wife soon after Joel was born, Samuel is a lonely, unhappy man and a distant father. When the boy invents a Secret Society-The Search For The Dog That Headed For A Star, he begins getting up in the middle of the night to look for the animal, bringing him into contact with some of the outcasts in the town as well as an older, wealthy boy who leads him into pranks that he does not want to do. The plot climaxes when Joel, distraught and resentful at his father's sexual relationship with a local waitress, accepts a dare to climb the giant arches on the bridge over the frozen river. It is through this harrowing, near-death experience that he realizes the depth and strength of his father's love, as well as his own integrity. In spite of Mankell's skill at describing the protagonist's inner turmoil and imaginings, readers may be left wondering about less-developed characters such as the older boy or the outcasts whom Joel meets in his nightly adventures. Still, the book might spur discussion for mature readers who grasp the depth and seriousness of this coming-of-age novel.-D. Maria LaRocco, Cuyahoga Public Library, Strongsville, OH Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
The Swedish crime novelist, author of the Kurt Wallander mysteries, gives a younger audience a sophisticated glimpse into a boy's psyche in this simple but captivating novel. Set in a secluded mountain town in northern Sweden in 1956, the story is full of quiet moments that fluently capture its protagonist's yearning to gain his footing in a lonely adult world he doesn't understand. Eleven-year-old Joel has questions that need to be answered. Why did his mother walk out on him and his father? If his father loves the sea, why are they holed up in the mountains? And why has his father started inviting big-breasted Sara, the loud waitress with the red hat, over for coffee? Instead of laying out each step Joel takes as he sorts things through, Mankell sends Joel on a series of thrilling midnight adventures, wherein he sneaks out of the house to search for a mysterious dog (and his own identity). Using his fertile imagination, Joel forms a secret society of explorers who share his mission and "grown-ups who think like children and act differently." His evolving relationship with his father and his encounters with local outcasts are refreshingly life-affirming, and by the end, readers can rest assured that Joel's journey, and their own, has been a fruitful one. Ages 12-up. (Dec.) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.