So, one of my goals this summer is to read all of the nominees for the 2012-13 South Carolina Children’s Book Award. (Those that regularly follow this blog have probably already figured that out.) I’m about halfway through the list, and there have already been some standouts (The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall, The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, and a couple of others). Unfortunately, there have also been a couple that I wasn’t overly fond of. (The worst was probably What’s for Dinner?, a poetry book about animals’ eating habits. It was nothing short of disgusting. Then again, I probably shouldn’t have read it right before lunch. Lesson learned.) Anyway, my latest read, How I, Nicky Flynn, Finally Get a Life (and a Dog) by Art Corriveau, is one of the SCCBA nominees that I didn’t particularly like. Don’t get me wrong. The story was decent. I just didn’t find the main character, Nicky Flynn, to be especially likeable or admirable. Maybe my students will disagree with me, but I kind of hope they use Nicky’s character as an example of what not to do in most circumstances.
Nothing is going well for eleven-year-old Nicky Flynn. His parents are getting divorced. He’s been forced to move from his big house in a great neighborhood to a small apartment in a less-than-great neighborhood. Nicky’s mad at his mom because he thinks she always lies to him and tries to keep him away from his dad. He’s in a new school and is becoming the target of bullies. He has to go to therapy every week to talk about his feelings. And now, his mom has decided to bring a dog into his life (totally without talking to him about it, by the way). She got Reggie, a German Shepherd, from the animal shelter, but this is no ordinary dog. Reggie is a retired seeing-eye dog, and, right away, he makes Nicky’s life a bit more interesting…
Nicky and Reggie grow closer (become best friends, really), and Nicky wants to know more about Reggie’s former life as a guide dog. He investigates a little and learns more about Reggie’s previous owner. He lies A LOT in his quest for the truth about Reggie’s past. Will he ever figure out what happened between Reggie and his former owner? Well, kind of, but that won’t really help with the mess his life is becoming…
Nicky is on the verge of losing everything, including Reggie. As his whole life spirals out of control–and his lies are uncovered–how can Nicky hold on to the one being that is always there for him? And what will Nicky do when his own selfishness and recklessness places both him and his beloved dog in a situation that is more dangerous than he can possibly realize? Will Nicky ever get back in control of his own life? And will he be able to stay with Reggie when the truth is revealed? Find out when you read How I, Nicky Flynn, Finally Get a Life (and a Dog) by Art Corriveau.
As an elementary librarian in South Carolina, I will promote this book as part of the SC Book Award program, but I definitely plan to discuss this book with my students. I’d like to talk to them about why Nicky is not a character to be emulated. Sure, he had some strong points–his love for his dog, for one–but, like I said before, he was not a very admirable character. He lied at the drop of a hat, he had a rather bad temper, and he didn’t think about how his actions impacted those around him. He did learn a few things in the end, but the adult in me still cringes at some of the stunts he pulled throughout the book. (I wasn’t impressed with the adults in this book either. They were clueless.)
There were a few things I did like about this book (lest you think I’m being completely negative). I enjoyed how Nicky wanted to learn more about seeing-eye dogs. He applied his research and knowledge to strengthen his relationship with Reggie. I also liked the setting of this book. It’s set in and around Boston, and Nicky and Reggie explore several sites that are of interest to readers learning about the American Revolution. The ending was also kind of satisfying. Nicky learned a little about himself and his mom, and I think, if there are future books about this character, those lessons might make him a little more likeable.
There are a couple of instances of bad language (not too bad, though) in this book. That, in combination with the discussions that need to take place about Nicky’s behavior, make this book more suitable for upper elementary (mature 4th and 5th graders) and middle school students.
For more information about this book and others by author Art Corriveau, visit http://www.artcorriveau.com/.