Laura's Reviews > How to Steal a Dog

How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O'Connor
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Jan 04, 12

bookshelves: younger-readers
Read in February, 2011

** spoiler alert ** Georgina Hayes is a young girl whose father has just abandoned the family, leaving them to live in a car while her mother juggles two jobs and tries to get the family back on their feet. She concocts a plan to steal a dog in the hopes of returning it for a handsome reward. Unfortunately, Georgina quickly discovers that there are more potential complications to her plan than she and her third-grade brother and partner in crime can anticipate.

The story is told from Georgina’s perspective and often uses a very conversational tone. O’Connor also employs a parallel structure where Georgina keeps a notebook detailing the instructions of “How to Steal a Dog.” The story is set in modern-day North Carolina in the small, rural town of Darby. O’Connor uses a lot of southern colloquialisms and grammar that is not necessarily in keeping with Standard Written English, but the setting does not keep the story or characters from being relatable, and may actually be compelling for children who are southern or from small towns.

Georgina is the character that is fully developed in this short novel. We see some complexity in her mother who struggles to be there for her children as a mother while she is juggling low-paying jobs, trying to find a home for her family, and dealing with the absence of her husband. However, we don’t get to know her very well. Georgina is a complex character, though, particularly for a short, young-adult novel. She is generally well-meaning and realizes that what she is planning to do is not right. She tries to justify the plot as what is necessary to help her family get back into a home. She comes to care about the dog and its owner but is unsure how to undo the damage she has done. She may be a difficult character for some readers to relate to, but if they are able to stick with it—and the novel is relatively short and easy to read—they will see that she is forced into a desperate situation from terrible but real circumstances but still has a sense of right and wrong. The resolution to her family’s story is nice but not overly tidy or unrealistic. The main plot may be slightly implausible, but it’s not hard to imagine a homeless girl trying to concoct a plan to save her family. There is definitely a clear message about listening to one’s conscience and remaining strong during trying times, but O’Connor avoids being overly preachy.
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