When sixteen-year-old Clair Taylor’s neighbors get a dog and leave him staked in the yard in freezing weather, she tries to ignore the whimpers and cries—the clear neglect—that is going on outside her window. The dog is none of her business, and Mr. Stewart, the neighbor, is a rude and abusive man.
Eventually the dog’s suffering becomes too much for Clair, and she begins visiting him. His name is Wally. His neck is chafed raw. He’s covered in mud and poop. And he goes crazy for attention. Clair wishes she hadn’t closed her eyes to the situation for so long.
Through the dog, Clair gets to know the neighbor’s son Danny, a boy her age she has lived next to her whole life but never really talked to before. A bit like the dog, Danny is starving for kindness. As they spend time together trying to train Wally, it seems that Danny likes her. The heart of the story is Clair feeling her way through changing relationships—with the dog, with her father, and with Danny.
Whippoorwill is beautifully written. The rural working-class setting is vivid, and the story not only shows how an animal can bring people together, but also how deserving of love unwanted canines (and humans) really are. I highly recommend Joseph Monninger’s book for teens and adults who like thought-provoking dog stories—and underdog stories.
Anna Monders is the booktalk specialist for Jackson County Library Services. She visits 200 elementary and middle schools classes a year, getting kids excited about reading.