This was an odd book. When I first saw it on the R Train, just after finishing A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, I only saw the bright blue of the cover in the hands of the twenty-something guy next to me. My first thought was that it was one of those “thug-life” novels that gets advertised on the subway, but after I saw the man flip past a full-page illustration, I realized it was something I might be willing to read.
It turns out Flawed Dogs is from the Young Readers imprint at Penguin and is based on a 2003 Berkeley Breathed cartoon collection. Since the book came out only in September of this year, I will not spoil anything about the ending, but I was deeply disturbed by the first two chapters and I think they’re fair game.
The opening chapter: the dog shown on the cover, with 3 legs and a ladle replacing the fourth, is carried into a dog-fighting arena. He smells blood and immediately understands what is happening. Placed in the ring with a slavering pit bull, he lays down to die. At this point, I think my jaw was hanging open; I could not believe this was a children’s book.
The second chapter flashes back to the dog’s memories of being owned by an orphan girl (who names him Sam the Lion) and sets up his antagonism with a prize poodle in the home of the girl’s uncle. Much general silliness also goes on, involving mischevious dogs and society matrons. At this point, I began to feel this might make a PG-rated Disney movie, like Lilo & Stitch, which dealt with misfit animals and orphans but toned down the emotional intensity a bit with charming visuals. Flawed Dogs doesn’t have enough illustrations to break me out of the mental pictures the text creates, especially as the owner of two rescue cats. I definitely do not recommend this book to sensitive types and those under 10, but if you can maintain a bit of emotional distance, it might be a fun caper in the end.