North to Benjamin by Alan Cumyn


North to Benjamin by Alan Cumyn. Scholastic, 9781481497527, 2018

819cYkOdH0L._AC_UL436_Format: Hardcover

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5

Genre: Fiction

What did you like about the book? What a strange, wonderful book! Edgar has moved to the far, icy north in Yukon with his wayward mother, Stephanie. They are housesitting and caring for an old, infirm Newfoundland dog named Benjamin with whom Edgar connects immediately. As soon as they arrive, Edgar’s vivacious mother begins to flirt with a neighbor named Ceese who already has a girlfriend, Victoria. It soon becomes clear that this type of behavior is the reason why Edgar and his mother have moved so frequently. Edgar is unmoored by his mother’s instability and is soon unable to communicate with anyone except for Benjamin. He can hear Benjamin’s thoughts and Benjamin can in turn hear and respond to him. Everyone else hears Edgar’s speaking as dog barking, but Edgar is thinking (and the writing is) in English. Luckily, Benjamin is there for him when he needs him most as Edgar takes drastic measures to stop his mother from ruining everyone’s lives yet again.

I raced through this book in one sitting. The writing is gorgeous and while it seems improbable that a young boy would be able to communicate with a dog, Cumyn achieves this feat seamlessly. It reads as a thriller as Edgar attempts to warn others of his mother before it is too late. In addition, the setting is gorgeously depicted; Edgar finds great joy in walking about the frozen world of the Yukon with Benjamin.

To whom would you recommend this book?  Students who are interested in books that involve family drama and or child trauma.

Anything you didn’t like about it?  Edgar knows that his mother and Ceese have been having sex, but he mentions it in vague terms involving her smell and her messed up hair. However, I was caught off guard by a discussion of sex in which Caroline (Ceese’s daughter) mentions putting “a thing in a thing.”

Who should buy this book? All middle schools

Where would you shelve it? Fiction

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Yes! It’s a strange, wonderful little book that will need booktalking

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City: Laura Gardner, Dartmouth Middle School, Dartmouth, MA

Date reviewed: March 27, 2019

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