Eighty pounds of German Shepherd was NOT what Nicky expected his mom to bring back from the store. Taco fixings were more like it. Worse still, Nicky didn’t want a dog. His life had just imploded. Mom and Dad were suddenly getting a divorce, and his cushy life in suburban Littleton, Massachusetts, has turned into a nightmarish crash course in inner city living with Mom in a one-bedroom apartment—and the one bedroom isn’t his. So Nicky has to share the sofa bed with Reggie, a retired seeing-eye dog.
His new school is rundown, the bullies have him on their radar, Mom is drinking just a bit too much “vino” and Nicky is learning how to live from day to day. Reggie, the dog Nicky never wanted, is increasingly becoming an important part of his life. Walking Reggie gets Nicky out of the stifling apartment and away from his problems. One day, some old men playing bocce in the nearby park recognize Reggie as old Alf Santorello’s former guide dog, and Nicky takes a leap into deception: he decides to “become” Alf’s visiting grandson so he can try to find out why Alf surrendered Reggie.
As Nicky sleuths his way around Boston, he makes friends, but lying becomes increasingly complicated. Nicky feels he is starting to understand Reggie’s personality, and notes that he has a sore hip and that sudden hand gestures cause him to cringe. Also, Reggie is becoming increasingly protective of Nicky, and one day he misinterprets Mom’s high-five to Nick—and he attacks her! Mom is terrified and says Reggie has to go back to the pound. But losing Reggie is not an option for Nicky, and boy and dog hit the road—no plan in mind, no money, no food. They keep running until they run smack-dab into the past and Nicky’s dad, who, since the divorce, keeps postponing weekends with Nicky. And the answers to the questions of Nicky’s new existence all come tumbling out.
Upper elementary and middle school readers will find themselves rooting for Nicky even as he makes poor choices and ultimately compromises the things he loves the most. But they will find that Nicky grows in understanding, acceptance, and compassion. In the end, Nicky Flynn really does, finally, get a life—and a dog.
Note: Includes some crude language which is entirely in context and appropriate to the characters in question but could be considered inappropriate for Middle Readers or below.
Recommended by Shari Shaw, Library Media Specialist, Livonia, MI.