Gary Paulsen is such an excellent storyteller that I’ll read anything he writes. Notes From the Dog
is a change of pace from Paulsen’s outdoors adventures. Fourteen year old Finn feels awkward around people, so he’s looking forward to spending his summer with a stack of books and his best friend Matt. But things change quickly for Finn when his new, very cool neighbor Johanna wants to be friends. Johanna treats Finn and Matt like equals instead of nerdy kids. She recruits Finn to plant the garden that she’s planned. Soon the boys learn that Johanna is undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. Finn, Matt, and Finn’s father become part of Johanna’s support system. Finn finds that he enjoys being involved in people’s lives, and he’s good at it too. Kleenex alert: the ending is realistic and sensitively handled.