A couple of times this summer I took a break from my usual teenage weirdo fantasy books and tried out some regular teenage/younger adult books. The sweetest one (and the one that made me cry the most) was Gary Paulsen’s new book, Notes From The Dog.
The only other Paulsen book I’ve read is Hatchet, an amazing adventure tale about a boy who survives a plane crash and is stuck alone in the Canadian woods with nothing but a hatchet. So I was surprised to see that a) this guy has written about a million books, and b) Notes is not an adventure book at all. It’s more of a coming-of-age/believe-in-yourself/take-a-chance-on-friends/open-your-heart-to-new-things sort of book that you can read in an afternoon.
Paulsen’s writing is so easy that I think every one of his stories would be a joy to read. This one hooked me completely on the second page when Finn, the 14 year old hibernating hero of the book, describes the differences between his friends. Not by who they are in general, but by who they are to him. He has a best friend, an oldest friend, and a funnest friend, but he has only one true friend.
It’s because he’s the only person I know who doesn’t make me feel like he’s drifted off in his head when I’m talking. Anyone who listens to everything you have to say, even the bad stuff and the boring things that don’t interest them, is a true friend. He’s always been the only person who’s easy for me to talk to.
Finn has big plans to spend his summer avoiding people by hiding in his house reading books. He actually has a quota of how many people he will speak to over the next two months. Finn can’t seem to figure real people out anyway, as they just make him uncomfortable. His theory is that “it’s a good idea to avoid discussing anything in social situations. A better idea is to avoid social situations in general.”
All goes according to plan until he meets Johanna, a mid-twenties college student going through chemotherapy, who moves in next door. Before the summer ends, Johanna weaves Finn, his dog, his friend Matthew, his grandpa, and his all-but-absent father into her family and social web to such a degree that Finn can no longer imagine how he lived a life without her. Or why he would have ever had an “under a dozen people communications quota” to begin with.
I’ve just re-read the end of this book and I’m as teary eyed as when I read it the first time. It’s pretty obvious that Finn no longer has Johanna as part of his life, but there are plenty of life changing things that were left with him. Not the least are 5 of the best written personal little notes that were mysteriously delivered to Finn over the summer by his dog.