Ms. Schutte's Reviews > Laika

Laika by Nick Abadzis
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Jan 19, 2012

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Read on January 19, 2012

The idea behind this book has immediate appeal--it's about Laika, the first dog to be launched into space (by the USSR on Sputnik II). But it's definitely not the light and fun read that I was expecting.

It starts with the head of the USSR's space flight program trying to walk himself out of a gulag (Siberian prison) where he has been released (although not acquitted) in order to be a scientist again--if he is able to survive the walk back to civilization. You then meet Laika as a puppy who is given to a boy that doesn't want a dog and in fact tries to drown her to get rid of her. She miraculously survives being dropped into the river in a bag but ends up later being grabbed by a dog catcher. One brief moment of light comes when Laika is unexpectedly taken to the space program instead of being put to sleep by the dog catcher. But it is short lived.

Laika is put through extensive scientific testing--put in centrifuges among other things. Some more graphic scenes show the dog strapped into devices with vomit all over herself. And then (not to ruin it), but since she has held up to the testing better than any of the other dogs she is chosen to be the one to go into outer space. But because this was a last-minute publicity move, there was no return option, and Laika dies in space after about four hours (although they were going to let her die anyway since they weren't planning on having the satellite return to Earth).

Needless to day, this could certainly raise some interesting discussions about scientific testing on animals. But it's very much not a book for kids who want a fun story about a dog. I think it could also be very confusing if you're someone who doesn't know anything about the USSR because most of the context goes completely unexplained (they never tell you what a gulag is, for example, even though they use the word frequently, and they never explain why the scientists are so paranoid or why the space program is even important).

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