In the Bookcase


Book Review: Huck

Huck by Janet Elder (5 star review)

The Remarkable True Story of How One Lost Puppy Taught a Family - and a Whole Town - About Hope and Happy Endings

written by Janet Elder

304 pages // published in 2010 // Animal non-fiction


Huck is a page-turning, unforgettable true story of the tenacity of one small dog, the unexpected, extraordinary kindness of strangers, and a family’s devotion to each other.

Michael was four when his relentless campaign for a dog began. At seven he made a PowerPoint presentation, “My Dog,” with headings like “A Childhood Without a Dog is a Sad Thing.” His parents, Janet and Rich, were steadfast; bringing a dog into their fast-paced New York City lives was utterly impractical.

However, on a trip to Italy, a chance happening leads Janet to reconsider, a decision then hastened by a diagnosis of breast cancer. Janet decides the excitement of a new puppy would be the perfect antidote to the strain on the family of months of arduous treatments for her illness. The prospect of a new puppy would be an affirmation of life, a powerful talisman for them all.

On Thanksgiving weekend, soon after the grueling months of treatments are over, Huck, a sweet, mischievous, red-haired, toy poodle joins the family and wins everyone’s heart.

A few months later the family ventures to baseball’s spring training, leaving Huck with Janet’s sister in Ramsey, New Jersey. Barely twenty-four hours into the trip, Janet receives the dreaded phone call: Huck has slipped through the backyard fence and run away.

Broken-hearted and frantic, the family catches the first plane to New Jersey to begin a search for their lost puppy. It is a race against time, for little Huck is now lost in an area entirely unfamiliar to him, facing the threat of bears and coyotes, swamps and freezing temperatures, rain and fast cars.

Moved by the family’s plight, strangers – from school children to townspeople to the police lieutenant – join the search, one that proves to be an unyielding test of determination and faith.

Touching and warm-hearted, Huck is a spirit-lifting story about resilience, the generosity of strangers, and hope.

My Review

5 Star Rating

Just look at that cute little puppy face. Oh, Huck.

The first thing that Huck taught me is that toy poodles don't have to have that hideous hair style exposing their shaved body. No, the same animal can be covered in woolly fuzz and be as cute as a button! Lesson learned. I can like poodles now.

To jump right into it, one issue that some people may stumble over when reading the book is that the author's writing style is just a bit different than other non-fiction stories, somewhat jarring. To clarify, you should understand that Janet Elder is a journalist for a newspaper, and her husband is in a similar line of work too. Thus, it's very simple to see that her wheelhouse is in writing facts, giving credit to people where it is due, by mentioning people's name, their jobs, or a bit about their life, etc. So in Huck, I feel that she didn't so much paint a tale for you, but constructed it from the bones of the story. There's a difference, and it certainly can be felt by the reader. For me, this was in no way off-putting. It was just her style, many times like reading an elongated newspaper article that just kept going. I felt like Janet's writing style helped me to understand her better as person. And so, I was perfectly okay with how she chose to write it.

There's two big elements in the plot, two stories being told together. One, Janet Elder discovers she has cancer, will be going through treatments, and knows it will be tough on the whole family. Two, after years of listening to the begging of her son, she and her husband are finally giving in to getting a dog. However, they lose their new furry treasure not long afterward. There's loss, but hope; sadness, but glee. Combined, these plots twist together into a tale that can bring on the tears -- especially for the dog-lovers.

Still, I think my favorite moment is when Janet talks of how her young son loved the McDuff books by Rosemary Wells. Those books fueled his passion for getting a dog, perhaps even a Westie, just like McDuff. I can remember my mom reading those books to my brother and me. We wanted a Westie too, just like Janet's son, and, yes, we got one for our childhood pet. So, on a personal note, I was overjoyed to find mention of McDuff, here in Huck.

What would you do if your pet ran away? What lengths could you go to, in order to get your furry family member back?

Available on Amazon in hardcover, audiobook, e-book format.

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  1. I have an 11 year old who also has been begging for a dog for years. Do you think this would be a good book for him or is the cancer theme too heavy? (Sorry, that's an odd way to ask that but I couldn't think of another way to put it)

    1. @Timdani, great question!

      Personally, I'd say it's more suitable for high school age students and adults (not necessarily what tweens would usually be caught reading). But I think this also differs for every reader (or the preferences of a parent for their child). In the book, Janet talks about her whole breast cancer experience -- about the various medical tests, doctor visits, and the emotional roller coaster that she went on through the whole journey. (These scenarios have the potential to either be a little embarrassing for a youngster to read, or could be considered "gross" you know...) but I think it ALWAYS depends on how mature your kid is, and what their reading interests are.

      So, it's not so much a "cute" story about a dog, as it is a story about a cancer patient who goes through an additional heartbreak and quite an ordeal to get the family pet back.

      Thanks for your comment! I hope this helps you to make a decision on reading Huck. God bless you!

  2. I have a dog-loving son who would love this story.

  3. Thanks for visiting my blog, Tarissa! This sounds like a good story. I can't imagine the stress of a lost pet on top of cancer treatments. But it sounds like they got him back.