review of middle-grade book Hotel for Dogs by Lois Duncan

Hotel For Dogs
by Lois Duncan
Scholastic Paperbacks (December, 2008) (reprint)
ISBN-10: 054510792X, ISBN-13: 978-0545107921
Ages 9-12

My rating: 4 out of 5


“Just remember how lucky we are, dear,” Mrs. Walker said. “Nobody wants to rent to a family that may only be living in town for a short time. If Dad’s aunt didn’t live here and hadn’t invited us to stay with her, we might have had to stay behind. You wouldn’t have wanted that, would you?”
“Yes,” Andi muttered, but she said it under her breath. She did not want to push her luck too far. Besides, she knew she was being unfair and was a little ashamed of herself. The two-story white house in front of them was a perfectly nice place. Actually, some people might have preferred it to the sprawling old adobe they had left behind.
The truth of it was, it was no the house itself that she resented. It was the fact that Bebe would not be allowed to live in it with them.

Hotel for Dogs by Lois Duncan, p. 2.

Did you know that the movie Hotel for Dogs was based on the book by Lois Duncan? This provides a great opportunity to give a child the book, and get them to read it before or after the movie, and then discuss both.

Hotel For Dogs is a light, enjoyable read that will appeal to dog lovers, and to girls and boys alike. Right from page one, Duncan pulls us into the story with a problem many readers can identify with–moving from an old home to a new one, and leaving friends and familiar neighborhoods behind. Andi and her brother Bruce aren’t even moving to their own home–they have to move with their parents to their stuffy great-aunt Alice’s. On top of that, Andi had to leave her beloved dog Bebe behind, because her Aunt Alice is severely allergic to dogs. The move is only temporary, until their father completes his training, but it seems huge to the children, especially when they both find themselves without friends.

When Andi spots a stray dog, of course she wants to bring the dog home. But when the dog has puppies, and Andi and Bruce’s aunt starts having a reaction, Andi knows she has to find some place else for the dog and her puppies to go. Some place safe. She asks Bruce for help, and he finds an abandoned house on their street, which is perfect. Andi and Bruce find more stray dogs that need a home. But then things start getting out of hand.

Duncan writes several chapters in Andi’s voice, before switching to Bruce’s, and moves back and forth throughout the story, showing events from each child’s point of view. This helps the book have equal appeal to girls and boys, as well as encourages readers to see and understand different perspectives. Andi and Bruce are easy characters to like; they both care about keeping animals and people from being mistreated, and actively work to help the stray and mistreated dogs they come across. Andi is also passionate about dogs and writing poetry. Andi is a more introverted character, while Bruce is more outgoing, yet both initially have trouble making friends after the move–something many readers will likely identify with. Yet both Andi and Bruce made at least one good friend, which brings good feeling to the story. At times Bruce’s knowledge about dogs and his speech felt a bit too grown up, even though the groundwork was laid for that.

The relationship between Andi and Bruce feels believable and real–both not understanding or appreciating each other sometimes, yet both helping or defending each other. There is also some nice tension that develops between Andi’s role in caring for the dogs (feeding them, brushing them, cleaning up after them, etc.) and Bruce’s role in caring for the dogs (earning the money to feed them) which strongly mirrors conventional societal roles of women/wives and men/husbands, especially since Bruce and his friend start to think they have the right to control the whole operation because they earn the money. This can bring some good discussion. However, this thread seems to get dropped, which I found disappointing. I was hoping there would be some clear resolution or understanding that each was vital, and could even be shared.

One thing that kept stopping the story for me was Jerry, the bully. His speech felt unbelievable, more like a tool to explain his motivations to the reader. It didn’t sound like I thought any child or bully would sound like. He felt, at times, too over the top, including how no adult ever saw through him. I also wasn’t sure that I believed in the character movement of Aunt Alice, moving from a complaining older woman to an animated and strong ally. I didn’t see her character unfold over time. One other place that took me out of the book was Andi’s search for the first dog in the house; the search went on too long with nothing happening. But these things did not stop me from reading or from enjoying the story.

Both Andi and Bruce have their own separate desires and goals, and both get fulfilled at the end of the book, which makes the ending satisfying. The bully in the book also receives consequences that fit his behavior, which adds to the feel-good ending. This is not a book full of pain; there’s a lot of good feeling and coziness, although a dog does get mistreated. But that dog is rescued and cared for by Bruce and Andi and their friends.

This is a thoroughly entertaining, fun, and light read. I enjoyed this book. If you like kids who stand up for what they believe in, dogs, or feel-good books, check this one out. Recommended!

If you enjoy this book, you’ll want to check out the sequel News For Dogs.

About Cheryl Rainfield

I write the books I needed and couldn't find as a teen. I write teen fiction--paranormal fantasy and gritty realistic fiction. I'm the author of SCARS (WestSide Books, 2010) #1 ALA QuickPicks, and Governor General Literary Award Finalist, HUNTED (WestSide Books, Oct 2011), STAINED (Harcourt, 2013), The Last Dragon (HIP Books, Sept 2009), and Walking Both Sides (HIP Books, 2011). I also enjoy drawing, surfing the web, connecting with people I like, doing crafts, and being with my dog.
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