Thursday, April 29, 2010

Review of Smells Like Dog by Suzanne Selfors

Selfors, Suzanne. Smells Like Dog. Little, Brown, 2010 (May).

The title of this book, along with the cover art, might lead an unsuspecting reader to think this was one of those goofy books about strange dogs and bad smells, full of broad jokes and gross-out humor.

Actually, Smells Like Dog is a bit harder to pin down than that. There is in fact a smelly dog - named Dog - that drools and eats all manner of revolting objects. Dog does have one highly unlikely and happily redeeming talent, but our hero, young Homer Pudding, doesn't find this out right away. In fact, when Homer's beloved uncle and role model dies and leaves him only Dog, Homer is disappointed and puzzled. Why would his adventurous, treasure-seeking explorer uncle leave him a dog of such dubious quality?

This question, plus Homer's obsession with becoming an adventurer and his sister's equally strong determination to become a famous museum taxidermist, leads the siblings from their goat farm in a small town to the City. There they are ensnared by the evil Madame la Directeur and her minions, who want something Homer has. Luckily, Homer has met a few odd friends along the way - if he can trust them, they just might mean his salvation.

This book has a slightly wistful and almost hangdog tone to it. Homer is a plump and rather sad lad whose thoughts and dreams are never aimed at what is going on around him - his blazing desire to be an explorer is the only vivid thing about him. He is portrayed in a fairly realistic manner, as is most of his family, but the rest of the characters are both eccentric and exaggerated. A spunky 12-year-old girl lives in a hidden nook in a factory surrounded by soup cans; an inventor travels about in a tiny copter disguised as a cloud; and the villains are both outrageous and despicable.
The setting, with a goat farm juxtaposed against the nameless City, adds to the surreal quality. Where does this story take place? Somewhere almost, but not quite, real.

This combination of a not-quite-real feeling and the exaggerated situation and characters reminded me of several books, including The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart and The Secret of Zoom by Lynne Jonell. It's not an out-and-out fantasy like Selfor's last book, Fortune's Magic Farm, but her knack for intriguingly bizarre characters is evident in both.

While I wasn't bowled over by this, mainly due to the odd tone, I enjoyed the imaginative adventure and the mild yet quirky humor. "A cloud with eyeballs" was a phrase that cracked me up early on - it's just so weird! I'd recommend this to fans of the books mentioned above and particularly to boys. For grades 4 - 6.

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