Saturday, March 17, 2012

Review of There Is No Dog

My family used to help out at a church where we used to live. Every year they set up a big store where underprivileged people could “shop” for toys and winter clothing. It was very organized, with people lining up outside and getting a number, so only a few could go in at time to choose their gifts. The volunteers would organize the tables by age group and clean up between shifts, then when the shoppers came in, we’d pair up and lead them around, holding garbage bags for the stuff they picked out. It was one of those nice holiday volunteer things you could do to give back to your community and I’d always walk out of there feeling blessed and happy that I could help but also kind of cruddy too at the sight of so much need and desperation. The thing was, all of that stuff was donated, and let’s just say that not everyone has the same definition of “gently used” that I do. A lot of toys were broken or dirty. You’d find coloring books already colored in and puzzles with half the pieces missing.

We were only supposed to allow the people 2 toys per kid (but I am happy to note that there was no limit on books!) and the first thing we’d ask is how many kids they had. Maybe some people inflated the numbers, saying they had ten kids, for example, when they only had four. One thing I really liked about that church was they didn’t request any kind of official verification. We took whatever the person said as the truth.

I told one of my friends about this and she rolled her eyes. Obviously people were taking advantage of our good will, she said, and pulling a fast one on us to get more stuff for their kids. But I looked at it this way: if you wanted to stand outside in the cold for three hours to take your turn in front of tables of broken, dirty toys, then I wasn’t about to call you a liar. And anyway, what if it wasn’t a lie? What if the person really did have ten kids? Here. Take another ratty haired Barbie doll, for God’s sake.

It occurred to me later that my viewpoint and my friend’s might pretty much sum up a key difference in how people perceive the world. Do you assume the worst? Seeing it as a tragedy that some bad apples are getting away with being dishonest? Or do you hope for the best? Think, okay, maybe a few people are making up kids, but whatever, a lot of them aren’t, and those are the ones we’re trying to help. This “store” was located at a church after all, and if any place should be erring on the side of too much generosity, it seems to me this is it.

Well, this is probably the longest lead-in to a book review I’ve ever written, and I’m not even sure, exactly, how it relates to the brilliant and irreverent and funny and surprisingly spiritual novel There Is No Dog by Meg Rosoff. Except my lead-in has something to do with religion. And so does Rosoff’s book. Also both have to do with how we view this world and our place in it.

It strikes me that there aren’t many books written for young adults that mention God, never mind that deal with any kind of spirituality. Which is odd because every human (including the teenaged variety) is going to reflect on these topics at one time or another.

Maybe I should mention here another difference in how people perceive the world. Some of us do a lot of questioning, and I guess, some of us don’t. Also there are differences in what we find funny.

I suspect that there are some who won’t find Rosoff’s story of “God” as a lazy, self-centered, sex-obsessed seventeen-year-old boy named Bob all that humorous. To which I would have to say: Oh well, you’re missing out on a really cool book.

So, Bob took over the creation of the earth because apparently no one else wanted the job and now after thousands of years, he’s sort of tired of dealing with it. Luckily he’s got a long-suffering, conscientious assistant named Mr. B who cleans up the bigger messes, but most of the time he’s preoccupied with wooing his latest love interest. Which is too bad for earth, because Bob’s intense moods tend to affect the weather in cataclysmic ways.

The book reads like a fairytale, with multiple characters and lessons and thought-provoking questions. Also lots of funny interactions between teens and their parents, as well as some lovely romantic scenes with Bob and his charming conquest. I had to stop several times to reread a particularly lyrical passage or to think about a funny moment that on second thought was actually pretty profound.

Why are we here? What is the point? Why do good people suffer? What happens to us after we die? While this novel doesn’t presume to answer any of this, it gives us questioning people a whole bunch to think about (and to laugh about too.) Thank God.

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